Nostalgia For Reality
SSSR @ Adelaide Town Hall – David Spence Room
6:00pm, Thu 1 Mar 2012
What the fuck.
I mean… really: what the fuck.
Those three words – and, for convenience (and emphasis), those Three Words again are “what the fuck” – perfectly describe the experience of Nostalgia For Reality… because I really have no idea what I sat through that evening.
I don’t usually take comps or freebies to shows, but my Event Buddy – with whom I was seeing Raoul later in the evening – had acquired a pair of tickets for Nostalgia For Reality after being accosted by some Russians in the Mall. With nothing else planned, I checked my copy of the Guide… and, sure enough, I’d scribbled a question mark (and some other unreadable marks) next to the show’s blurb. I figured that those scribbles meant that the show was under consideration, so I agreed to go gratis.
The David Spence Room was set up in an odd configuration: audience seating lined three walls, giving the impression that the show would be presented in the round. No lights are dropped as two men (from the five-strong Russian troupe) appear, colourful shirts poking through plain vests… they’re jovial and smiling. Through toothy smiles and sweeping actions, they welcome us to the show – before telling us about their impending heart attacks. Furthermore, they tell us, their approaching deaths are our fault… they feel too much pressure to perform, you see. They feel fear because of us. It’s all our fault.
And, less than two minutes into the performance, I’m feeling unbelievably disconnected and… well, horrified. You see, my Event Buddy – the provider of these tickets – had recently (a fortnight ago) lost a dear, close friend to a heart attack. And I could barely imagine what was going through her mind as these smiling men repeated, over and over, that their heart attacks were our fault.
The rest of the audience shifted nervously in their seats, too, but the performance carried on; the awkward opening gives way to some odd tumbling, before two gorgeously attired women appeared (the long red dress was stunning, and the green thing with the flappy bits was the manifestation of joy) as more oddball dialogue was delivered. But there didn’t really seem to be any connection, any flow, between the vignettes…
And then the two puppet heads appeared, engaged in their own non sequitur… and that’s the first time my mind shaped those Three Words. The stage used for their puppetry spins around to reveal another female performer hidden within. The group all try to engage the audience in a bridal waltz… the looks of sheer discomfort from the crowd were completely understandable, considering I probably looked the same as I twice declined their gentle invitations to join them in the dance.
I just really, really wanted to get out of that room.
But then came the closing piece: a series of projected images and videos that the group had recorded during their time in Adelaide. These projections recorded the responses of other people to their advances in the Mall… the same advances that were made to us. And their responses looked exactly like ours – “oh dear,” their faces said, “this is very odd. I don’t believe I am unsafe, but I really don’t want this weird colourful Russian near me. Oh shit, there’s a camera.” I suspect the intention was to create a sense of melancholy, but – as the troupe stood there and watched the projections with us – it just felt… well, what the fuck.
It’s clear that this performance comes from a place that I’m not familiar with. There’s such conviction and dedication in the performers’ efforts that I’m left in no doubt that this type of presentation is a more prevalent art-form in Russia. But for me – uneducated and ignorant – it was a disjointed mess of non sequiturs, obscure abstractions, and overwrought sentimentality.
Sometimes you leave a show with your Event Buddy, and you’ll turn to look at each other and just burst into laughter; that mirth comes from equal measures of relief and bewilderment, tinged with the acknowledgement that you’ve just shared An Experience. There was no such laughter at the end of Nostalgia For Reality; we silently walked towards our next venue. Eventually, after a few blocks, I had to break the deafening silence that surrounded us: “let us never speak of it again,” I said.
“Yes,” my Event Buddy agreed.