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Quick: This Is Set In The Future

Closes on the 7th December (Sunday) and should not be missed.

A couple of thoughts afterwards.

On the one hand, it is independent theatre for adults, by adults, distinctly different from most of independent theatre around, which is decisively children-centred. Affrontingly vulgar. There may be a few reasons for it. Has a strong retro feel, 1990s if not 1980s (always hard to tell when geography blurs chronology), all those accounts of Anthill suddenly shaped up into coherent images in my mind - this may be all completely wrong, I may be misled. It is crude, smart and brutally in your face in the way Melbourne independent theatre made by people of my generation simply isn't. (I blame the suburbs, but then, I'm an urbanist. I always blame the suburbs.)

It is well-written, -performed, and -directed. Keeps you on your toes. It does (almost) my dream theatre: a dystopian soap-opera, all imaginary problems taken to their extreme. It has flaws: the frantic acting and the verbosity often work one against another: the actors trip over the language, the language is lost. It is, however, an exhilarating night of theatre. Theatre. Not writing, not acting, etc. The whole thing is quite splendid.

Finally, it brings up an interesting question. Knowing that death is imminent makes us behave in ways quite similar to knowing death will never happen. The absolute of presence and of absence of death results in the same freedom, and it may be only the uncertainty that keeps us in check. (This, strangely, brings us back to Kundera, and the irrelevance of anything that happens only once.)

What makes it decidedly 1980s, and not now, I think, is the presence of death. In the 1980s, drugs were still lethal. AIDS was present, and so was the nuclear war. Contraception was not a given. One was still making choices. Today - apart from the suburbs, and the fact that most Australians of independent-theatre-making age were raised bubble-wrapped and fearful - we have had 9/11, we have had Belle and Sebastian, we have had the strangest combination of supremacy of the unReal (from suburbs and television to bubble wrap) and massive-scale trauma (Terror and the war against). Ecstasy doesn't kill, neither do computer games nor mobile phones. It is a much safer world. Much less real.

This Is Set In The Future is another Melbourne altogether. It is, in a sense, all about heroin.

The reason why I'm taking forever to respond to Bell Shakespeare's marriage with Heiner Műller is the complex ethics of the aesthetics of the unreal. When everything becomes a copy of a copy of an image, when consequences are many times removed, we are entering the realm of pornography. This Is Set In The Future, quite the contrary, is terrifyingly real. In that Műller sense of it being "the potentially dying person" that makes theatre special.

Startling.

This Is Set In The Future. Written by Glyn Roberts, directed by Robert Reid, designed by Sayraphim Lothian and Robert Reid, music by Josh Cameron. With Scott Gooding, Rachel Baring, Hayley Butcher, Joshua Cameron, Glyn Robert. La Mama, until 7 December. Thu - Sat 8pm, Wed & Sun 6.30pm.

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1. There is nothing more dispiriting than coming out of a performance feeling exhausted, disappointed and sad, only to have to face the clamour of a delighted audience. People giving multiple rounds of applause, praising the same production for being moving, lovely or touching. For making them smile. I recently saw two, back to back.



The Age I'm In, by Force Majeure. Carriageworks, Sydney 2008.

The Age I'm In, by Force Majeure, at Carriageworks (still going), is an example of physical theatre that would not leave a hole in the world if it disappeared overnight. It is, in one word, unnecessary. It is, just like it could not be. Soundtracked with audio recordings of interviews with Australians of different age groups, it makes a diverse group of performers dance and lip-synch the responses about the joys and difficulties of life. It is a most unfortunate combination of verbatim, pedagogical, feel-good and accessible. It is dance drawn with crayons, Saturday night date theatre, and social commentary ranging from bold (7-year-olds saying cute things) to extremely provocative (vague mythologisation of the struggle against breast cancer). It doesn't have the power of a documentary on more concrete struggles, nor the centreless, open-ended poignancy of the 7 Up series. It has also been described, over at Stage Noise, as mesmerising, clever, innovative, imaginative, witty and moving.

On the other hand, Theatre du Complicité is filling the Sydney Opera House with A Disappearing Number, according to Diana Simmonds an amazing, exhilarating experience, making one feel happy, touched, humble and smarter (if I quote Simmonds again, it has more to do with the ready availability of her in-depth, articulate reviews online than to signpost a personal dislike; I respect Simmonds's opinion). The grand ordinariness of this production is a little harder to explain, due to its sheer foreignness to Australia. It is overwhelmingly expensive, produced, all glitz and media. However, underneath the seemingly complex narrative lines and moving screens, it is a very straight-lined story of an unhappy love, peppered with a biographical sub-plot of the maladjusted-genius genre. It has a grieving husband, some Hollywood-like, profound-sounding blabber on mathematics, pretty images and music, and the end is clearly visible quarter-way into the performance. Every element is presented in its most polished, most palatable, least surprising version: the American is a capitalist simpleton, every mathematician is out of touch with reality, every university a temple of intellectual pursuit. There is even a most calculatingly middle-of-the-road touch of post-colonial nous, discreetly pointing out that not every Indian-looking, these days, was born in India.


A Disappearing Number, Complicite. Sydney Opera House 2008.

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The Age I'm In, by Force Majeure and Carriageworks. Choreography Kate Champion. Set / Lighting Designer Geoff Cobham. Costume Designer Bruce McKnvin. Sound Designer Mark Blackwell. Visual Artist William Yang. Audio Visual Producer Tony Melov. Audio Visual Technician Neil Jensen. Performers: Marlo Benjamin, Samuel Brent, Annie Byron, Tilda Cobham Hervey, Vincent Crowley, Daniel Daw, Brian Harrison, Roz Hervey, Kirstie McCracken, Veronica Neave, Tim Ohl. Carriageworks, Sydney, 26 November - 6 December.

A Disappearing Number, co-production by Complicite, barbicanbite07, Ruhrfestspiele, Wiener Festwochen, Holland Festival, in association with Theatre Royal Plymouth. Conceived and directed by Simon McBurney. Music Nitin Sawnhey. Design Michael Levine. Lighting Paul Anderson. Sound Christopher Shutt. Projection by Sven Ortel. Costume Christina Cunningham. Performers: David Annen, Firdous Bamji, Paul Bhattacharjee, Hiren Chate, Divya Kasturi, Chetna Pandya, Saskia Reeves and Shane Shambhu. Sydney Theatre, Sydney, November 19 - December 2.

Note on Sydney

I have had the most wonderful three days in the dreaded City Up North, the highlight of which may have been the drunken strolls up and down the alleyways of Surry Hills with our own Arts Journo, gin in one hand and writerly discussions on the other. It is a stunning city, beautiful more for the overwhelming floral lush and the balmy warmness of its people than for the harbour views. Theatre, as usual, seemed to be the dialectic of lukewarm mainstage and the excellent Performance Space. Public transport was inconsistent, but gozleme were everywhere. Other people's boyfriends, and some gorgeous girls, treated me to extraordinary food. (The absence of people to demand meals from is one of the sad downsides to the otherwise glorious state of singledom. I would love to stand up for my own well-being, and demand spicy fish soup with Turkish bread. But who from? The normal state of affairs has me regularly feeding two flatmates and many more-or-less random men.) I was treated to books and conversation. I was treated to markets and bookstores. It was the calm and peace, gardens and smoking, walking and Christmas-shopping, that I rarely get at home, surrounded with half-finished projects, with dirty laundry and possibilities of housework. It was so beneficial to move away from the mountain of reads, from plays to graphic novels, sitting on my desk.

Sydney has grown on me for all sorts of unanticipated reasons, in all sorts of unanticipated ways.

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Review: Nomads

Nomads, part three in an ongoing project that started in Sydney in 2006, by Hans Van den Broeck plus dancers, is exactly the sort of theatre I love, the reason why I endure hours and hours of pretty dancing, of actorly acting, of witty dialogue and realistic set design. Every time I go through a door into a dark space with seats, I hope to see something close to Nomads. It is not the most pleasant theatre. It is, I imagine, tremendously frustrating to many. It is, first, not the kind of theatre that showcases skill: any theatre practitioner - and most theatre-goers, unfortunately, are also theatre-makers - will likely be underwhelmed. It is also not theatre that makes one feel anything much, which will inevitably frustrate any casual audience member. It doesn't tell a story, has no plot, makes no effort to lead the spectator, step by step, into a journey, the logic of each scene, or the sequence thereof, is never explained. It has all the predispositions to be labeled self-indulgent.

But. Just because this type of theatre-making, shall we call it European (although a particular kind of European, it is also not something normally found elsewhere), is not a common type of theatre-making in Australia, doesn't mean we should shun it as opaque et cetera. In fact, let me tell you how we could approach it. We could approach it like a sonata, or an early Renaissance triptych. It is certainly no more than a historical accident that we approach theatre like we approach the pilot episode of a sit-com? With minimal intellectual engagement, and infinite impatience? What if we approach it with an open mind instead, actively thinking our way through, with patience and willingness to adapt our sense of time? What if we are ready to wait, let the theatre take its time to show and tell, ready to do our own bit of work, ready to think?

Hans Van den Broeck, a psychologist by training, may be best known as one of the founding member of Les Ballets C. de la B., a freeform collective of dance extraordinaire. The overriding logic behind the project really appears to be the exploration of the relationship between Hans and the dancers, and his working methodology. At the heart of Settlement, the second stage, just like Nomads, was the very concentrated rehearsal time, two weeks with an assembled group of people, based on a strong concept, and a detailed scenario constructed beforehand. The resulting work is understood as finished, not a work-in-progress. Not unlike a real society, it is the free-form collaboration with an open, complex reality that emerges.


Settlement. Sydney, 2007.

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Nomads. Directed by Hans Van den Broeck. Performers/collaborators: Kathy Cogill, Nikki Heywood, Rowan Marchingo, Tony Osborne, Lizzie Thomson, Vicki van Hout, Nalina Wait, Anuschka van Oppen, Joe Jurd. Video design Sam James. Sound design James Brown. Lighting design Sydney Bouhaniche. Project convenors Nikki Heywood and Rowan Marchingo. Production manager Jenn Blake. Residency showing at Performance Space, Sydney, 27 - 29 November 2008.

This week

A number of small performances will open and close: blink and gone!

Lily Kiara opens on 5 and closes on 6 December: Moving South at the Dancehouse. Shelley Lasica presents VIANNE at 45 downstairs, from 4 to 14 December. Glyn Roberts's and Robert Reid's This is Set in the Future, at La Mama, closes on December 7 and is, I hear, perfect. It is also your last chance to see the gorgeous gorgeous Black Lung, and Bell Shakespeare's unhappy fling with Heiner Muller, complicated but well-worth seeing, both closing at the Malthouse on December 6.

Meanwhile, up in Sydney, Frankenstein, based on Lally Katz and set design, opens at Wharf2LOUD next week. It was in the previews when I was up partying, and I don't know if it's any good. NOMADS, the best performance in the country this year that nobody saw, opened at Performance Space on Friday and closed on Sunday.

I've had a rich week of theatre, quite uncharacteristically. While I'm sorting out my notes, trying not to spend too much time wrapped up in YouTubing the extraordinary work that friends and not-yet-friends in Europe are putting on, with big budgets, institutional support, and critical welcome, perhaps it's worth noting that Black Lung's Avast season at the Malthouse is the most significant development in independent theatre in Melbourne 2008. Visibility rather than creative outburst, perhaps, sure, but significant nonetheless.

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Review: some dance shorts

Your guerrilla semiotician has recently been treated to a series of short choreographic works on all sides: Australian Ballet's Interplay, a program of total art, Ballets Russes-style collaborations of musicians, choreographers and designers, closely preceded by Australian Institute of Classical Dance's showcase of young choreographers, Dance Creation 2008. On the other side of popular taste, VCA has presented Transmutation, a two-part panorama of student dance, with choreographies signed by names such as Phillip Adams, Neil Adams, and Stephanie Lake.

Dance Creation 2008, while unexpected and underattended, was very appreciated. Apart from the disappointing Reed Luplau and Sydney Dance Company, the range and breadth of the choreographies was quite stunning. Beautiful, in particular, was Wakako Asano's collaboration with koto musician Satsuki Odamura, performed by four very, very young girls (not older than twelve, I would guess).


Dance Creation 2008.

Australian Ballet's Interplay, in comparison, was a lukewarm affair, not living up to the grand promises. While executed with almost robotic formal brilliance, and featuring a range of fantastic music, Stephen Baynes's Night Path and Matjash Mrozewski's Semele sacrifised the possibilities of movement to stream-lined narration, in a way that seemed awkwardly anachronistic. Nicolo Fonte's The Possibility Space, rejecting, perhaps, the expectation of palatable ballet as Disneylike fantasy, was a much more interesting dance. Eschewing narrative, it is emotionally sophisticated and formally surprising, a thingof aqua costumes, bare feet, and set halfway between Logan's Run and a pacific island. Coming at the end of the interminable performance, however, my partner and I were already too exasperated to care. Interplay was loudly hailed as an experiment in innovation and brilliance, and perhaps it was our mistake to take the tag line to the letter.


Interplay; Night Path. Photo by Jeff Busby.

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Dance Creation 2008. Presented by Australian Institute of Classical Dance. Choreographic works by Wakako Asano, Tim Harbour, Reed Luplau, Kim McCarthy, and Tim O’Donnell. Melbourne, 31 October - 1 November, National Theatre.

Interplay. The Australian Ballet. Choreographic works by Stephen Baynes, Nicolo Fonte and Matjash Mrozewski. Sydney, 6 - 25 November, Sydney Opera House, with Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra.

Transmutation, Program 1. Victorian College of the Arts. Choreographic works by Neil Adams, Phillip Adams, Brett Daffy, Anna Smith. Melbourne, 12 - 15 November, Gasworks Arts Park.

Transmutation, Program 2. Victorian College of the Arts. Choreographic works by Neil Adams, Phillip Adams, Natalie Cursio, Stephanie Lake. Melbourne, 19 - 22 November, Gasworks Arts Park.

Review: Here: Where We've Always Been



This is a show starting with such clear limitations: it's community theatre; even more, circus. It features a large, non-professional cast. And it is highly issue-driven, all based around, I presume, celebrating the centenary of women's suffrage in Victoria. All these lines drawn on the ground, setting up a fabulous failure.

Women's Circus, to elaborate, was established in 1991, and has developed a reputation for engaging women who survived sexual abuse, assisting them to reclaim their bodies and to build self-esteem in a safe and non-competitive environment. Are you shrieking in terror yet? I am community-minded alright, but the path to bad art is paved with good intentions, self-esteem building, and non-competitive environments.

Instead not: it succeeds. And it does so wonderfully, perhaps, because the lines are so clear, so stubbornly clear right from the beginning. If there is magic in the theatre, it is almost always in a clear limitation transgressed, in something made to disappear, and something else made out of this nothing.

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Here: Where We've Always Been. Women's Circus. Directed by Nadja Kostich. Musical director Irine Vela, assistant director/circus choreographer Sara Pheasant, production manager/lighting designer Emma Valente, set and costume designer Marg Horwell, video design Zoe Scoglio, animator Isobel Knowles. Cast and band Women's Circus. Arts House, North Melbourne Town Hall, 24-30 November.
A high-school boy, at the end of The Women of Troy, tells me uncertainly: I'm not sure if it's not making me feel anything because I've been desensitized by television... Despite the necessary reservation we should have for this self-analysis, as children today have been so overanalysed in their exposure to televised and game violence that they are conscious of the expectations placed on them to be heartless before their time, the boy is correct.

I am reading, over and over, The Women of Troy described as powerful, shattering, poignant, and these are such disingenuous words. It is, quite the contrary, deliberately distancing, alienating, from beginning to end. If anything, we may guiltily leave the Malthouse Theatre feeling like we should feel shattered, unsure whether it's not touching us because we're philistines, or because we've become desensitized to Abu Ghraib as idea and image, but that is the extent of the emotional reaction. And that is, ultimately, the problem with The Women of Troy: it doesn’t seem to exist for an audience. It doesn’t want to make us feel, it doesn’t appear to want to make us think. If anything at all, it wants to disgust.


The Women of Troy.

Staging a clef is a very common way of modernising a theatre classic: dressing it up with imagery or situations from another time, usually contemporary, in order to bestow some relevance onto the text, some universal resonance onto our time. However, semiotically and dramaturgically, it makes a mess more often than not: all those colliding, flapping bits, all those elements contradicting one another. A classic, according to Calvino, is a work that has never finished saying what it has to say. To that purpose, I believe the theatre maker(s) has every right to dismantle it completely, build onto whichever thread of relevance she wants to follow. Or, having no emotional connection, she can stage it as a piece of historical formalism, in the key of an era, even if this means to succumb, like MTC, to neotraditional nothingness. Present an ancient Greek tragedy as a detention camp dress-up, however, and it opens up more problems than it solves.

The Women of Troy is a very clear manifesto on the banality of evil, from the blood-stained blue carpets to the torturers in mismatched tracksuits, helped by the chorus which, whenever there's blood, launches into classical muzak in direct defiance of Adorno. The plight of Trojan women after the fall of Troy is shown in bright light, completely de-romanticized. However, that seems to be the extent of the production's conscious intent at saying something.

It is not quite clean if either of the two conflicting elements is meant to be alienating, and if either should provide emotional content. Perhaps we should recognise our shock and horror as we recognise the motifs of Abu Ghraib, and the lines of Euripides would then make this violence strange. If correct, this is simplistic logic: no emotional content travels with these visual quotations, because they are just that. Clean, empty quotations.

Susan Sontag was deeply concerned about the effect that existence in a culture shaped by a sustained reproduction, recycling, of imagery, had on morality. In Regarding the Pain of Others she considers the ecology of images created by the way photography tears fragments of reality out of their historical and geographical contexts, mixing them freely into a visual soup of pop, iconic, ready-to-use images, and compares it to the surrealist collage. This promiscuous aestheticisation of experience, in her words, “makes everyone a tourist in other people’s reality, and eventually in one’s own.” It is not merely, thus, that being exposed to a pastiche of shocking images does not provide one with understanding of the complex ways in which suffering somewhere else exists in the same reality with our comfortable experience of regarding suffering on stage. More insidiously, being repeatedly exposed to shocking, brutal images hardens us against feeling shocked, feeling brutalized, by them. The repetition and the distance makes them feel less real, banalises.

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The Women of Troy, by Euripides, adapted by Tom Wright and Barrie Kosky, directed by Barrie Kosky. Designed by Alice Babidge, lighting by Damien Cooper, musician Daryl Willis, sound design by David Gilfillan. With Robyn Nevin, Melita Jurisic, Arthur Dignam, Natalie Gamsu, Queenie van de Zandt, Jennifer Vuletic, Patricia Cotter and Kyle Rowling, Giorgios Tsamoudakis and William Larkin. Sydney Theatre Company, presented by Malthouse Theatre, until November 22.

Next week

I am a little tired of that incessant guilt I feel for not responding to theatre, all sorts of theatre, fast enough to give a review, a criticism, and publicity, in time before each and every show ends.

For that purpose, here. Your viewing list for the week:

VCA end-of-year showcase is coming to an end, with Transmutation, Season 2 (Graduating Students), on until Saturday 22 November, at Gasworks. If you've missed Season 1 (1st & 2nd year), boo-hoo, it was spectacular. Season 2, while not quite the gem, has Bocage by Phillip Adams, who may be the most important theatre-maker currently active in the country. Worth the ticket price just to see his piece.

On the same side of the river, Red Stitch are opening Christian Lollike's The Work of Wonder. Directed by the intriguing Herr André Bastian, it looks like a good end-of-year post-dramatic rollic, and I'm hoping something truly different and perhaps genuinely brave. Goes on until 20 December.

The Malthouse have that group of gorgeous boys, The Black Lung, doing a diptych of bushranger gothic, Avast I & II, until December 6. Alison has already written on both performances, but I am recommending blindly. I am trying to squeeze them both into my disastrous-looking schedule - if only because Dylan Young hugged me whilst inviting, and because I saw the guys on Fringe 2006, grabbing everyone's attention with Rubeville.*

*EDIT: Black Lung are indeed every bit as good as Alison makes them sound. If you only have the money for one theatre visit before Christmas, make it Avast I.

Finally, Red Cabbage are putting on a large-scale, ferry-around-the-bay, site-specific pirate thing called Collapse. Ferry and bus journey included in the ticket price. Until 30 November. Bookings on 03 9932 1000 or hobsonbaytickets.com.au

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Triptych

The beautiful, enormous space of Carriageworks – probably at least half the size of the Venice Arsenale – is a good place to think about the relationship between body and space. It is a semi-reconstructed, semi-abandoned train shed, a glass and iron enclosure of large volumes of air, with narrow but tall corridors, with sprinkles of soft benches, chairs, on the concrete floor, a space as impressive, in its effect on the mind, as any intentionally good architecture – as pleasant to wander around as that opera house. Sivan Gabrielovich mentioned being in the outback, experiencing for the first time the enormity of Australia, and feeling bare, lost, foreign, and unable to hide to herself. Nothing casting a shadow. I have often, returning to the Kvarner Bay after long periods overseas, felt the immediate realignment between my physical existence and the dynamics of the relief: the regular rhythm of the hills, the safe mutability of the sea, the enclosure of the islands all around.

The philosophical background to Bodyweather likewise – the acceptance of being a part of the world, and not a constant confrontation with it, is what has driven Far-Eastern thought strongly towards understanding applied arts and everyday practices as spiritual pursuits, perfecting the tea ceremony and work ethics just like the Western thought has engaged in still life painting, biochemistry and walking on the moon. As Okakura says, in The Book of Tea, "The art of life is in constant and repeated adapatation to our surroundings."



Bodyweather is a comprehensive training and performance practice, developed by Min Tanaka, a butoh dancer and choreographer, and his Mai-Juku Performance Company, exploring the intersection of body and environment. Body is conceived not as a fixed, separate entity, but as a constantly changing, permeable element in the order of things, responding to the processes inside and outside the body. Like the weather. Strength is drawn from the acceptance of its fragile finiteness. As a former member of Mai-Juku, from 1985 to 1991, Tess De Quincey introduced Bodyweather to Australia in 1988, before establishing De Quincey Co. in 2000. She has since engendered a strong teaching and performance practice, and developed different projects, the most fascinating of which must be the Triple Alice Laboratories, which explored the landscape of the Central Desert of Australia, bringing together an interdisciplinary group of artists and scientists, indigenous and non-indigenous, in situ.

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Triptych - Robin Fox sample from Samuel James on Vimeo.

Triptych. By De Quincey Co. presented by Performance Space. Choreographer/Director Tess de Quincey. Performers Peter Fraser, Victoria Hunt, Linda Luke, Lizzie Thomson. Sound composition Chris Abrahams. Audio-visual production Sam James. Video footage Tess de Quincey. Oscilloscopes Robin Fox. Performance Space @ Carriageworks, 245 Wilson Street, Eveleigh, Sydney. 6–15 November.

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About

My name is Jana P and Mono no aware is my soul HQ.

I've lived in Croatia, Venice (Italy) and am now stationed in Melbourne, Australia; I blog in many languages, to many people.

I'm a web-designer; translator; journalist; good cook; light traveller; free thinker; street make-up artist; hitch-hiker; amateur photographer; prolific kisser; fighter of bureaucracy; theatre-goer; writer of love letters; failed japanologist and a prospective urbanist.

I'm interested in the relationship between words and images, between mind and space.

These days, I write mostly on spatial theory and theatre.

I can be contacted at relatively [at] gmail [dot] com.
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