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Ben Speth: Iliads

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From Helen DeWitt:

Why are they fighting?
Can’t you read what it says?

From Bruno Latour and Adam Lowe:

To penetrate the poem’s inherent greatness, you need to bring with you all of the successive versions, adaptations, and accommodations. Nothing is more ordinary than this mechanism.


Ben Speth launches an epic performance event combining seven different translation’s of the Iliad in a marathon reading of  chapters one to four by a team of ten mostly contemporary-dance artists. Sources for this live art Iliadic cento-slam range from Chapman (1615) to Buckley (1851) to Fagles (1990). When we enter the space, we see the actual texts piled on a table, a tall stack of books. The books are later distributed among the performers. The sequence of the readings — each performer reads somewhere between five and twenty lines at a time — is fixed by Speth. And during the reading of each of the four chapters there’s a different structure for interprative movement improvisations. Between each chapter there’s a short break, with plenty of food, wine and beer.


This performance can only be about isolated moments, accidental beauties and insights revealed fleetingly amid the sprawl of baffled and baffling improvisation. So the first moment. What is the theatre of war? A loft on Moreland Street in Footscray. Afternoon. Midsummer. A very mild midsummer. The sun is setting. The loft is light and spacious, with one large window open to the outside. It takes roughly one hour to read each book of the Iliad aloud. And each book is supposed to represent roughly one day of the siege of Troy. Across the first hour, as the Greeks argue (WHY ARE THEY FIGHTING?), the colours of the evening shift and fall, from white birds to, per Christopher Logue–


The colours lingers in the loft, it being so open and so spacious. It is Simone Weil who calls Homer as “impartial as sunlight”. And the body of the air is white and silver.


The muse mingles good and evil in her gifts. These are dancers in a circle bound,

Danced there Athame, danced, and there Phrethusa
With colour In the vein,
Strong as with blood-drink, once,
With colour In the vein,

but none of them is aoidos, none of them has the gift of sweet song. They are swift-footed but dull of tongue. It sounds truly horrible. By the sound of it, this is a corpse Iliad, as if a squad of massacred Trojans wandering eternally through the underworld – lungs without breath and cracked throats – have stumbled on a cache of translations. They read as though they’ve all eternity to waste.


This is not war as a machinic force which mangles the bodies of men and women, stripping them of their humanity and converting them to basest matter; it is dance as a machinic force which mangles text, stripping it of poetry and reducing it to muttered nothings and muted cries.


The second moment. During the reading of chapter two, fairy lights are used to describe a large circular performance area. Eight cast members sit in a long row in the open-plan kitchen, outside the circle. As before, they take it in turns to read short passages from the various books. Meanwhile, one performer improvises inside the circle while another plays silent provocateur on the sidelines. Through the course of the reading, these roles are rotated, while the cast also eat and use the bathroom as they need. Visually, with a line of readers looking over the performance area, it seems to look forward to book three and the Teichoscopia, where the Trojan nobility observe the fighting from the walls.

Philipa Rothfield is last to enter into the ring. By this time it’s night, and the heaped yellow lights that form the edge of the ring shine out like a sort of soft mystery, like—

the ringed horizon. In that ring Cain struck Abel. Sweet work, right work!

She dances with her eyes closed, her chin up, arms raised above her head, hips slowly jinking and jiving. During the final section of the chapter, the readings begin to overlap, getting louder and louder. This seems to me to be an accurate rendering of the mental effect of first reading chapter two of the Iliad, especially the latter parts which tell of the captains of the ships and the ships in their order, the so-called catalogue of ships. It’s a babble of ancient names and ancient places. The reading culminates with all eight voices shouting their parts at once, a torrent of words indistinguishable pouring out of the bright kitchen into the half-lit performance space. Rothfield dances as though under a waterfall. The rhetors lean forward in their seats, hurling out the sound; but the body resists, cool and easy. She doesn’t even realise when they’ve finished.


A corpse Iliad. Le corps du danseur. Or Corpsing: slang for breaking character by laughing. Here, amid the carnage of Achaeans and Trojans, there was corpsing all the way through. In book four, Amarinceus’ son Diores is struck on the ankle by a rock thrown by the Thracian Pirous, crushing the bones and tendons to a pulp. Natalie Abbott falls flat on her back, arms flung out to her comrades, gasping with laughter. This after almost four hours. Everyone is tiring. But even as Abbott tries to drag them down after her into giggling anarchy, they somehow hold it together.


In the massing and re-massing of bodies across the four movements this Iliad is always laconic and smiling. This is not an epic of war, or even of force. This is an Iliad of peace, distant from war; the dancers are playful, uncertain about what they should be doing, but optimistic. It is as Simone Weil says of the Achaeans before they reach the Troad shore –

At the outset, at the embarkation, their hearts are light, as hearts always are if you have a large force on your side and nothing but space to oppose you.

And this is how the improvisations play out. What structure has been given for the improvisations except the shaping of space? Now it’s circular or now it’s rectangular or now it is open and overlapping with the audience. Only time – the time needed to read – supervenes with some intimation of violence. Here the action of time is barely resisted by the dancers. They are eager for the promise of exhaustion and frustration, the lengthening and shortening of time. It’s not a question of combat, but of sacrificing the body to the experience of waste.


Or was it that they were as Gods? Every loft its own lofty Olympus. According to Rachel Bespaloff, the happy carelessness of the immortals is the one sin and only crime which Homer does not pardon. “I do not blame you,” says Priam to Helen. “I blame the Gods, who launched this Achaean war, full of tears, upon me.” But for the Gods – as much as for the ten dancers – the war is a comedy. This performance is perfect languor. There is no struggle against destiny or necessity or the unseen forces of the universe – only against boredom. And as Bespaloff writes:

Where the free individual is not asserting himself against Fate, responsibility has nothing to grasp. Anger spills out in a bust of laughter that sanctions he triumph of incoherence.

On first opening Chapman’s Homer, Greg Zuccolo mutters in a frustrated aside:

“He’s a real pain in the hole, this guy.”

All night they all want to avoid Chapman, and to avoid the way, like a true Jacobean, Chapman manifests the struggle against necessity, in the tortured syntax and the obscure vocabulary.


When it was over it was over. It was over like war is over. Like a relief. There will always be more. Ben Speth plans, distantly, a performance of the other twenty chapters. A full twenty-four hour reading. And then beyond that, perhaps a Total Iliads. All the translations and adaptations: everything from Logue to Lombardo to David Malouf to Stephen Mitchell to Alice Oswald and even Simon Armitage. Perhaps there might be a Cosmic Iliads, something more than total? Hundreds of performers all across Footscray: on every street corner someone reading a translation of Trojan Women. Great snaking processions of unprofessional reciters reading Virgil and Racine and Shakespeare, Berlioz’s libretto and all the rest of the so-called scraps from Homer’s banquet, the thousand imitations launched in the wake of Achilles’ famous rage?

Latour and Lowe, again:

If the songs of the Iliad had remained stuck in one little village of Asia Minor, Homer would not be considered a (collective) author of such great originality. It is because and not in spite of the thousands and thousands of repetitions and variations of the songs that we are moved so much by the unlimited fecundity of the original.

Iliads, Thursday 12 February 2015, Ben Speth, 36 Moreland St. Footscray, upstairs loft.

Unreservedly Manifest: The Temptation of Saint Antony

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This essay is reposted here for my good friends at the Four Larks who recently revived their Saint Antony for the lucky folk of Los Angeles. Essay originally published in 2012:

Despite the heat, December is an excellent time for a Four Larks production, their spirit of generosity and excitement being a happy complement to all that is best about the holiday season, and also, in their defiant independence, a cure against all that has become corrupt and unlovely throughout the long and cringle-crange year. Their latest production is religiously themed, too, adding further to the sense of a Christmas processional — not because of any overt celebration of Christian traditions, but because of its preoccupation with the inner life.

The play, a “junkyard opera”, is The Temptation of St Antony, based on the novel of the same name by Gustave Flaubert. Antony has retreated to a mountain hut in Egypt to lead a solitary life dedicated to prayer and abstinence. His ambition for spiritual purity, however, is violently upset by a series of vivid hallucinations. The Devil himself brings on the seven deadly sins, before returning to astound Antony with paradoxes of infinity; the Queen of Sheba confronts him with her sexuality, while Nebuchadnezzar tempts with power and riches. Hilarion, a former disciple, offers him secret knowledge, and a parade of demons and spirits abuse and debase him.

The story has ancient roots, going back at least to Athanasius of Alexandria’s Life of Antony in the fourth century, but Flaubert’s innovation is to leave open the question of whether these visions are real envoys of the Devil, or only the work of a superabundant imagination. And that’s the fertile ground of doubt upon which the Larks build their adaptation.

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Written by neandellus

October 22, 2014 at 3:28 pm

Posted in examen

David Maney: White Spots

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White Spots


David Maney’s White Spots is not what you expect from a one-man show about multiple sclerosis. It’s more an experiment in form than an attempt to speak directly about his experiences. He doesn’t, or not in any straightforward way, tell us the story of his illness. He is more interested in exploring — nervy and fractured, energetic, playful yet insistent — new ways of structuring the affective flow. The result is a work that is erratic but enthralling, awkward but original, often evasive but everywhere full of courage.


What are white spots? They are diagnostics signs. Nerve fibres are protected by a layer of water-repelling fatty cells called a myelin sheath. Multiple sclerosis is characterised by the deteriation of this protective sheath. Excess water is retained in areas where the myelin has been damaged. This shows up on an MRI scan as a bright white spot.


Maney’s work is like an avant-garde autobiography, if it’s like anything. We know that Maney has multiple sclerosis and this gives his story real poignancy; but he doesn’t want his audience to feel the emotional discomfort normally associated with this sort of staged disease memoir. He is ambiguous about what he is showing us. Is it trauma? There has been trauma, certainly, but Maney is still young. He is making lifestyle changes. He is managing the disease. People can’t see his MS, he tells us, so he has to explain it. If it is a trauma show, perhaps it’s more the trauma of not knowing how to adequately explain trauma?


White Spots is therefore a shameless confession, but with the shame put back in at an odd and somewhat perverse angle. Shame is a moral problem, but now also an aesthetic problem — or even an ethical problem. Multiple sclerosis is turned in on itself. It is aestheticised: lesions become white spots. It’s a show about the communication of feeling rather than a show for the communication of feeling. The question now is how should Maney feel about how we feel about how he feels about his diagnosis? And then too also how should we feel about making that question the premise of a Fringe show?


The work, then, unfolds in a dreamlike collage of uncertain postdramatic skits. Confounding yet undeniably intimate atmospheres suggest an otherworldly lounge act, or a chancy combination of self-help and stand-up. Or it’s like a thaumatrope blending humiliation and epiphany, naivety and guile.


White spots. Or is it blackness with holes. A black box full of holes. A skull full of stars. The beams move themselves with spotlight swiftness into crevices of the brain. His real problem, says Maney, is that the spots are affecting only the eloquent and sophisticated areas of his personality. The crude, low-brow areas work fine.


The opening is chaotic. Cables don’t fit. The sound isn’t working. The technology has failed. David Maney blushes and stalls and doesn’t seem to know what to do next. Someone rushes out to buy a missing part while Maney launches hastily, reading some text from the back of the programme. Pity is tenacious. By folding the problem of shame in on itself, pity is only displaced, not abolished. It is shifted to a different plane. We don’t feel sorry for Maney because he has a terrifying disease, we feel sorry for him because his show is falling apart. This is very generous of him, to make this shift; he willingly sacrifices the moral high ground of victimhood. If Maney is a romantic — and almost certainly he is — he does not make a romantic drama of his suffering.


And still Maney is ahead of us. We soon discover that the catastrophe is staged. The ruse is well executed. Perhaps too well. How should we feel about such a trick? Clearly his purpose is not to humiliate the audience. Indeed, Maney is unstintingly affable. There’s plenty of audience participation, but most of it gentle and affirming. More than anything he wants us all to be good friends. Is this the meaning of the ruse? A way to break the ice, and then we move on?

NASA-BRIGHT-SPOTS-CERESA large white spotlight is aimed at a scrim. It looks like a full moon hanging in a night sky. Maney lounges behind the scrim. It looks as if his silhouette is lounging in the moon. Oh, the moon shone bright on zany Mr Maney. We hear the sound of gentle waves. Maney’s silhouette is talking on the telephone, talking to his – now-ex – girlfriend. Something about the tsunami. Something about numbness in his legs. And then we move on.


He grins all the time. He ums and ers, hems and haws. His anecdotes meander, silliness and affected social awkwardness prevail. Everywhere absurdity gets between the public and the personal. He performs the “The Dance of Dave”. Again, we’re told the technology has failed. The audio backing track won’t play. He wants the audience to stand in. This time we’re suspicious; but, because we’re all good friends now, we oblige. We chant Dave Dave Dave and he lays down some cheesy rhymes. There are many such skits. There are many such Maneys, as elusive as they are absurd.


This is a play about dealing with shock; but Maney doesn’t treat his diagnosis as if it hides a special truth. He describes White Spots as a funny trauma about letting go. Letting go of what? Of trauma itself? Or perhaps of the tendency to treat life always as though it needed to be affirmed by trauma? That is, he is reacting against the tendency to treat the life as if it were secondary to the trauma, as if there were no life without the affirmation of pain. Is he letting go of the authority of the survivor?

White Spots, Friday 3 October 2014, David Maney, Melbourne Fringe Festival, La Mama.

Written by neandellus

October 6, 2014 at 2:27 am

Posted in examen

James Batchelor: Island

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But the line stops. There is no unity. All
logic and life are made up of tangled ends like

–TE Hulme’s Cinders


James Batchelor’s Island is an enthralling combination of dance, sound design and installation art, a fascinating approach on problems of perspective and positionality, all pulled together by an intriguing, ultimately elusive, utopianist dream logic. Entering the Sylvia Staehli Theatre, we are encouraged to find our own place in the room. We can move wherever and whenever, even after the work begins, exploring different views on the action and the architecture. Orderly lines – the bank of seats, the rows of eyes – are broken off. The audience stops. We are standing, then we are moving. We are that tangle of ends, the loose strands, tossed, as the daughter of John of Elton throws back her head.

bdc07d93-f092-4af9-8ba9-bc0b326534e12. The work has a has a slick, cyberpunk theme, with suggestions of the uncanny and post-human. Given this general sort of sci-fi feel, the literary influences cited by Batchelor in his program notes are pretty wild, and perhaps counterintuitive.

TE Hulme’s Cinders is mentioned. Astonishing! TE Hulme, proto-modernist poet and amateur philosopher, big and bluff and always chucking people down the stairs, a self-declared enemy of Romanticism, a prig and a reactionary, who volunteered as an artillery man and was blown-up in 1917 in West Flanders. Has anyone else thought of TE Hulme recently? Besides John Gray? Hulme had no truck with progressive politics of any kind, and especially not with any belief in the perfectabiltiy of society — of islands and utopias. But Cinders is a kind grimoire for modernists: whatever spell you need, you will find it in Cinders.


He also cites Aldous Huxley. TE Hulme is interesting enough, but to pair Hulme with Huxley is something else. Among the modernists, Huxley is  Hulme’s antithesis. Huxley is a political progressive, a gentle, would-be-mystic, a pseudo-scientist and a pacifist: four reasons for Hulme to despise him. Batchelor cites both Huxley’s Island and The Doors of Perception as inspirations for his own Island.

We can  guess what Batchelor finds in The Doors of Perception, Huxley’s account of his “experiments” with mescaline. It is the search for some hidden hatch in the back of the skull, an escape from the suffocating embrace of selfhood: a utopia for the mind. But what does dance have to do with it? Can the dancer lift her audience from the ruts of ordinary perception? Can dance transcend spatial relations, or only reveal them? What is Batchelor really up to with his Huxley? What good is choreography which only imitates the feeling of a sacramental experience of reality?


It’s even less clear what we should understand from Batchelor’s reference to Huxley’s Island, a strange book, little read, somewhat old fashioned, freighted with once-fashionable ideas about political economy and orientalist consciousness-raising.

And yet — Batchelor’s work has a kind of pop-and-lock, hip-hop inflection, something smooth, effortless, zero-gravity…

He actually was floating. “Floating,” the voice softly insisted. “Floating like a white bird on the water. Floating on a great river of life—a great smooth silent river that flows so still, so still, you might almost think it was asleep. A sleeping river. But it flows irresistibly. “Life flowing silently and irresistibly into ever fuller life, into a living peace all the more profound, all the richer and stronger and more complete because it knows all your pain and unhappiness, knows them and takes them into itself and makes them one with its own substance. And it’s into that peace that you’re floating now, floating on this smooth silent river that sleeps and is yet irresistible, and is irresistible precisely because it’s sleeping. And I’m floating with it.” (Huxley’s Island)

Floating…  white birds, swans … white short, white shoes, becoming future swans?


Finally, Batchelor cites contemporary British philosopher John Gray, best known for his fabulously melancholic Straw Dogs.

Gray is, first of all, the reason for Batchelor’s interest in TE Hulme. Gray shares Hulme’s hostility to any politics or system of belief that aims at changing human nature. He quotes Hulme extensively in his most recent book, Silence of the Animals, a thoroughgoing denouncement Utopian idealism. No more Islands, Gray demands. They are impossible. The only Island we will find is the Island of Death. Science can’t take us there, and the attempt would overthrow millions. Whether from the political left or the political right, the dream of remaking society is necessarily a desire for murder and destruction.

Perhaps then, if Batchelor follows John Gray, what looked at first like a “posthuman” aesthetic — a term which absolutely suggests the possibility of an Island — is no such thing at all. Perhaps it is a kind of mysticism?

John Gray claims that what is needed in place of Utopian neoliberalism is “godless mysticism”, which he describes as a kind of extreme skepticism, or dystopian thinking. Does that explain the quiet, monkish industry of Batchelor, McCartney and Lee? Quick, rigorous, but unhurried? Their strange costuming – the white on white, white clothes and shoes, white chalk through the eyebrows and hair? Is it reminiscent of something cultish? Perhaps this Island is a cult dedicated to mystical self-abnegation? Moving around those the mirrors in which we figure possible worlds…


There is only one art that moves me, says Hulme. Architecture.

The design of Ella Leoncio, described in the program as an architect, is simple but brilliant. She uses mobile banks of semi-transluscent, semi-reflective plastic panels both to cordon off the performance zone (a temporary clearance in the waste, as Gray would say), and also, interestingly, to project that performance zone into and across the audience, using a kind of funhouse hall-of-mirrors effect.



And the performers are looking at you. They single out individuals and stare, briefly, without expression. Here’s Hulme’s Cinders again:

Think in a theatre and watch the audience. Here is the reality, here are human animals.

Either way, the effect is uncanny. There is something brilliantly robotic about the measure and control of all three performers – Amber McCartney, Bicky Lee and Batchelor himself. It reminded me – of all things – of that poledancing witch-robot by Blurred Lines. She is also able to recognise people, staring at them from behind her mask. This kind of thing is deep in the uncanny valley.


Our sense of unreality — in tension with Batchelor’s desire to “deconstruct the symbols that veil our perception of space” — is accentuated by Morgen Hickinbotham’s powerful sound design, which mixes ethereal soundscapes with grinding, body-rocking pulsations. Particularly in the first movement, we get lots of sustained, high-pitched atmospherics, like throbbing violins, but distant, under miles of reverb. Imagine the sharp, stabbing strings of the shower scene in Pscyho, but slow…

By what I think is the third of four parts (Batchelor describes the work as a “three-part study in space”; I counted four distinct parts, so I’m not sure where the divisions are meant to be), the music is overwhelming. People are starting to dance, or at least to shuffle and nod. And why not? We’re on our feet, the music is an irristiable 88 beats a minute, and that growling bass goes right through the body.



In the third part, or the second last, all three performers position themselves in a small enclosure, almost one on top of the other, and each remove a small desiree potato from a pocket. Then they sort of mime their potato caroming off the walls of the tank and off one another. At this point, Morgan Hickinbotham’s beats are probably at their most irresistibly danceable. But the significance of all this is, well, fairly obscure.

Perhaps it is a reference to Tristan da Cunha – one of the islands described in Judith Schalansky’s Atlas of Remote Islands, reputedly the most isolated inhabited place in the world. Islanders there work on communally-owned potato plots in their leisure hours. Certainly the claustrophic, clambering choreography, in slow motion, fits with Tristan, where there are only 261 inhabitents, wtih 8 last names between them. Life is slow, and very, very contained.

Or perhaps it is only to say, “Of course the Dharma-Body of the Buddha is a potato!”

Maybe it’s a kind of retro futurism. I was reminded of the old Atari game of Asteroids with its potatos in space:



And cinders become the Azores, the Magic Isles.

There is so much to like about this piece. The design is so rich and involving, the choreography and argument so enigmatic and intriguing. If it isn’t the most radical sort of environmental theatre, it is enthralling nonetheless, layered with ideas, aesthetically appealing, choreographically expert, and intellectually stimulating.

Island, Wednesday 11 June 2014, James Batchelor & Dancehouse Housemate production, Dancehouse.

Written by neandellus

July 10, 2014 at 4:28 pm

Secretive Dance Team: Funny Forest

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TIMON: What wouldst thou do with the world, Apemantus, if it lay in thy power?
APEMANTUS: Give it the beasts, to be rid of the men.

-Timon of Athens

We let go of one another from time to time, simply letting ourselves quiver with cold: our bodies were quivering like two rows of teeth chattering together. The wind made a wild sound in the trees. I said to Dorothea in a stammer (I was stammering and talking wildly), “… My skeleton … You’re shivering. Your teeth are chattering … ” I stopped and lay on top of her, heavy and still, panting like a dog. Abruptly I clasped her naked buttocks.

-The Blue of Noon, Bataille


On a misty, drizzly winter’s night, nipping cold, Melbourne’s Secretive Dance Team perform the second of their delitescent “works of wander”, this time a pastoral farce spoofing animalism, totemism, rituals of initiation and ludic Orphism.


Why a secretive dance? Is a secretive dance the same as a secret dance? No, I think a secret dance would be a samizdat dance, a forbidden dance, performed underground, in private or in a private code; even then, say, in the living room or the bedroom, the performance would involve some great personal risk, both for the dancer and the audience. That risk is the meaning of  the secret dance. Secretive dance, on the other hand, is performed in an obscure zone neither public nor private. The secretive is playful, wilfully obscure: it places itself in both or neither. What is at stake for the secretive dancer, and for her audience, is never clear, and perhaps never can be clear. What is at stake is an enigma. The enigma – which might be an invitation or an initiation, or some other formal gesture – is the meaning of secretive dance.

back of a tree3.

Where does the work wander? Forth, in forest glades, among the solemn elms. It is indeed a funny kind of forest. What sort of place is this for sacred play? What sort of Arcadia? What sort of Arden? What happens in the Carlton Gardens after the sun goes down? Is there a more storied or more sordid lurking-beat in Melbourne? The gardens were planted out in 1856, and as early as 1860 local residents were complaining to police about La Trobe Street hookers touting along the terrace. In 1870 we read in The Argus of Mary Brien, fined £10 for indecent behaviour in the gardens. She got off lightly: on the same day the same justice sent “a very loud-voiced virago” named Nora Horne to gaol for 12 months for being a “disorderly” prostitute. Even now, on the very night of the performance, one of the dancers is propositioned by a shady male skulking by the playground. But what else should we expect? Such inner-city parklands always show the underside of nature, its rough backend.


“That is not a tree but the back of tree,” writes GK Chesterton. “Can you not see that everything is stooping and hiding a face? If we could only get round the front.” But we can’t. That would mean getting out from under civilisation. No, you can’t go in front of a tree, only behind it, where, furtively, you discharge, de-sublimate, or regress, disclaiming for a brief, sleazy moment the norms of civilised life. Discharge all you like; you will never again see that primitive face of things.


But before the discharge: we huddle under a peppercorn tree, drip, drip, drip, waiting for something to happen. It begins, and with poetry: a dark prosopopoeia, full of doubtful assurances. It is obscure but unmistakeably comic, recited into a tin-can-and-string telephone. We are led into the “forest”. The receiving tin can dangles uselessly by the hierophant’s waist.


More humans appear: joggers, rain-hail-or-shine fitness fanatics, dressed in sweats and hoodies. They run their laps around our little company. Their exertions promise metamorphoses; huffing and puffing, they lewdly expose the beast that nestles by the skeleton: Swan, Brumby, Tiger, Bear.


But lewdly how? How to choreograph exposure? If it were only some sort of Midwinter’s Night Dream we might simply cry, “Masters, spread yourselves! For dance is a kind of spreading, and you are all Nick Bottoms.”

Of course, here, in Carlton, the metamorphosis is more awkward, more like the difficult transformations described by Krasznahorkai in the opening lines of his Animalinside: “He wants to break free, attempts to stretch open the walls, but he has been tautened by them, and there he remains in this tautening, in this constraint, and there is nothing to do but howl.”

It is difficult – necessarily difficult – to spread the walls. We laugh at their groaning labour. But they persist. I am reminded of the late Niki Pollard, dancer, choreographer and researcher: “Stretch open the cavity, string the bones differently. Cover and flush. Keep the image going. Flush.”

Yes, flush in winter, flush in Melbourne, flush in the cold and the rain. Flush your blue moons. A sudden breakthrough! Clutching their buttocks – spreading their buttocks – the secretive dancing animals leap up, rushing helter skelter, howling, quivering, rebounding off tree-trunks. Flushed, transformed.


Of the animals of the forest, Anonymous Boschs, or Animanimous Boschs: what was the bear doing, in all his grunting innocence, his inclination toward pleasure? Vigorously rutting with an aluminium possum deterrent? Athens is become a forest of beasts. Do those semi-bestial humans, those in Bosch’s garden of earthly delights, in fact purify – or at least naturalise – sex and sexual play? Is such a reversion possible? So some commentators claim … but is there not a little willful perversion, too? A little Boschian cheek? There is more than a little cheek in the funny forest. And such bathos! When the torn aluminium sleeve clatters to the earth, abandoned…



After harassing the audience with howling and lunging, perhaps a form of interrogation, the four beasts switch to a sort of ritualised grooming, which includes tenderly pressing our toes and anointing our foreheads. Why isn’t there more allogrooming in contemporary dance? A genuine reconciliation of the two tribes, audience and performer? For the cold, the wet, the confused it’s a welcome gesture, a bonding moment.


As a finale, the dancers piss in glass cups, so to perfuse their holy trees, totems, the elm-that-hateth-man. What to say, except that it is – against all probability – a beautiful, natural moment? The dancer-animals stand in the middle distance, adrift on the wet lawn, so green, the city skyline lost in sheeted cloud. We wait on the path, beneath the lofty, whispering trees. Hunched, bent like cracked pipes, exactly as if they were draining something precious, each of the four dancers fills a glass. They offer these piss-filled glasses to their tree-spirits like temple dancers, or like Freudian infants, offering excrement-as-gift. Lit from beneath with small led lights, the glasses have that same warm cibachrome glow famously captured by Andre Serrano in his series of photographs of cultural icons immersed in urine, of which Piss Christ is the most notorious. And why not smile? Why not welcome the gift? Such warmth! Oh for a hot mug of piss to hold close on such a nipping night.


What else? Swaaaaaaan. Bruuuuuumby. Tiiiiiiiiiger. Beeeeaaaaar. Their cries linger. A dream, past the wit of man to say what dream it was.

Funny Forest, Wednesday 4 June 2014, The Secretive Dance Team, corner of Carlton St & Canning St (Carlton Gardens).



Written by neandellus

June 18, 2014 at 3:45 am


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