Reckless Sleeper: A String Section

chairs

1.

What is A String Section? As long ago as 1958, Tynan observed that, for the critic, the history of twentieth century drama was the history of a collapsing vocabulary. The crutch of categorisation has long since been cut from under us. The bowl is broken and leakage is the rule. Reckless Sleepers – Belgian, formed in 1988 – are well at home in this cracked, inside out world of melt and flow. They describe their projects not in terms of dance or theatre or installation, but in terms of hazard, mishap and opportunity. So what is A String Section? It is the art of staging an accident.

2.

Five performers enter the Malthouse bagging room stage right: Natalie Cursio, Caroline Meaden, Alice Dixon, Chimene Steele-Prior and Leen DeWilde. They’re dressed in stylish but not impractical short black dresses, with heels and lipstick. And although this is standard concert apparel for classical musicians, there’s something intriguing about it. The group’s costumes appear carefully curated: each dress has a different style of hem and a different style of neckline. Even the slits vary. Immediately we recognise a spirit of playfulness and invention, a sense of medley leading into melody.

3.

Is there a cultural mythology of the little black dress? Modern beauty, efficient and protestant, industrial but not without its poetic appeal? The performer in black, Piaf, Damia, the silhouette, the abstract? Continue reading “Reckless Sleeper: A String Section”

Ben Speth: Iliads

selfportrait

1.

From Bruno Latour and Adam Lowe:

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

2.

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 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.

3.

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’s adaptation of the poem–

Honey.
Onion.
Pearl.
Rat:

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. Continue reading “Ben Speth: Iliads”

David Maney: White Spots

White Spots

1.

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.

2.

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.

3.

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? Continue reading “David Maney: White Spots”

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
that.

–TE Hulme’s Cinders

1.

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.

2.

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.

3.

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? Continue reading “James Batchelor: Island”

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

1.

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.

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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. Continue reading “Secretive Dance Team: Funny Forest”