Friday night saw your faithful correspondent attending Green, one of the 'highlights' of the Melbourne International Arts Festival, and I'm pleased to say that it was a far-less-than-sellout crowd. The piece is best known for its use of live animals on stage, and while choreographer Saburo Teshigawara has been vocal in proclaiming the barnyard content as a way of exploring man's relationship with nature, it turns out that the cows, rabbits, ducks and goats are little more than visual interest in a show lacking much interest at all. If you're deeply involved in contemporary dance, you might get something from the extremely formalistic and repetitive performances here; if you're not, you're more likely to feel as tired and abused as a goat tethered to a pole.
Now, I have to get this out of the way: I was pretty open to the intentions of this show, and went in with a positive mindset. I'm generally of the opinion that animals shouldn't be used purely for our entertainment, for the same reason babies or the elderly or disabled folks shouldn't be put on stage for their 'cute' factor: it's an issue of consent, and if someone can't consent to being displayed for all to see, then you've got no right putting them up there. All of the hype about Green as an investigation of animality and humanity's position within the natural world had me hoping, but in the end this was as investigative as an Anne Geddes calendar. And if the reports I heard today are correct, the animals were doped up before the show, and despite the fact that the performance itself was pretty narcotic, that just ain't on, Saburo. Why do you need to drug them? Because they might not act the way you want, otherwise.
Because they might not want to be there.
I know that plenty of you aren't as interested in animal rights as I am, so here's a more compelling reason to avoid the show: it is, and I don't want to get all academic and jargonistic on your asses here, BOOOOOOOORING.
Boring enough to lull certain audience members to sleep, as I noticed (I stayed awake, but barely). And all of that zzzzzing had me thinking back on that old pet topic of mine, Boredom.
I've had a long interest in boredom, and what makes us bored. It's been a good five or so years since I began to wonder about boredom, and there's a good reason for it. Very few people address the topic directly, but when you have to sit through show after show it helps to think about why and when you get bored. And, more importantly, what this whole boredom thing is really about. I don't have any real answers, but I do have some random and disconnected observations, which is my usual modus operandi.
Firstly, most people think of boredom as something caused by a lack of stimuli; a response generated negatively, when there's, well, nothing to respond to. We get bored because there's nothing going on.
I'm not sure that this is the case. People complain that all sorts of things are boring, inane, mindless, uninteresting: Big Brother, Australian Idol, commercial radio, Shakespeare, trance music, BBC drama, jazz, etc. But there are massive audiences for all of these. So are these audiences finding something others miss? Or are they more easily interested?
There are a few writers who see boredom in a different light, and I tend to side with them. They argue that boredom is an active response to the world, rather than a passive one. Boredom isn't caused by a lack of stimulation, but is something else entirely.
Patrice Petro has argued that boredom arose most visibly in the period between World Wars, when disaffected youth began performing boredom as a response to an increasingly monstrous world. This makes sense to me, since the bored attitude of teenagers can be seen as a way of actively responding to a world which just won't listen.
If you look at the social situation of someone who proclaims themselves bored, you can often glean a relationship between that situation and the thing they describe as boring. A Grumpy Old Man finds reality TV dull. A music hound can't see any interest in Top 40 radio. A kid yawns at the Greek classics. These are all active responses to things that, despite what their fans say, are positioned within a complex social structure of class, wealth and accessibility. And even though my last post declared, in a Bloody Messy fashion, the usefulness of useless and boring theatre, I don't hold any hope for the theatre as a vehicle to bust through these boundaries. People find theatre boring for a reason, and it's all to do with who they are. Boredom is entrenched in our cultural being, and I think that boredom should be investigated as a key to ourselves as much as anything else.
So: when I declare Green to be boring, I want you to know that I'm doing so from a specific, culturally located position. It doesn't speak to me. It doesn't interest me. And my boredom might partially be an active reaction to what I see as an ambiguously abusive use of animals in a dance work.
Or it might just be because the show is boring. Like I said, I'm still working through this stuff.