It's Melb Fest interval time, since we're about halfway through, so grab a drink from the bar and elbow your way back here tout suite; we haven't got much time before the second act.
Quick review - what have we had so far? Well, we've had all manner of things, but variety hasn't exactly been the defining feature of this year's festival. In fact, the number of common elements linking shows has been surprising, seeing as how pundits were having trouble finding a 'theme' to this year's program and the festival director denied the existence of one.
If there was a theme, though, I'd say 'DREAM' pretty much sums it up. With the exception of one or two shows I haven't posted on yet, every performance I've attended has ended with me stumbling out into the auditorium rubbing knuckles in my eye sockets, blinking myself awake, and attempting to reconcile the previous hour or two with the realities of, you know, getting home. It's as if this year's festival has been calculated to turn the usual arts crowd into a horde of zombies shambling up St Kilda Rd, not groaning "BRAAAAIIIINNNNSSSS" but "AAAAAARTTTTTT". Or, in many cases, "WWWWWWTTTTTFFFFFFFF?"
Tonight I saw Japanese dance company Fluid hug hug's Rise:Rose, and as I watch my memories of the event rapidly recede in the rearview mirror I'm compelled to write something about the event. It featured three terribly adept dancers pulling every move possible, it seemed. The sparseness and control of traditional Japanese dance was tempered by the fluidity of contemporary practice, and even hip hop elements crept in with hand plants and subtle popping. But though there's no denying the skill of the dancers (amongst the best I've seen this year), it was one of those shows where I had no idea what was going through the choreographer's head when he put it together. Why this move, and not that? What's this sequence dealing with? What the hell is going on?
This confusion, mingled with the obvious abilities being showcased, put me into the state that's been the recurring theme of the festival, that dream-state I mentioned earlier. It's not sleep, exactly, but it's certainly a reduction in the beta waves, to get technical, and a major upping of the theta cycle.
It's as if these shows are designed to put you into that state where you're not quite asleep yet, but are ready to dream. As my plus-1 put it tonight, it's that moment where you're lying in bed thinking about stuff, with music playing softly in the background, and suddenly you snap to and realise there's no music playing. Or, as he put it more succinctly, "I feel a long way away from my feet."
I've been feeling that for a while, and I'm hoping to find a show that puts my feet squarely back in the picture. Not that I haven't been enjoying the festival so far, or that my feet are a pretty addition to any picture, but as the fat sheriff in the cult 1971 film Two-Lane Blacktop puts it:
"If I'm not grounded pretty soon, I'm gonna go into orbit."
Back when I was a teenager with bad hair, poor social skills and no dress sense, long before I became an adult with poor hair, bad dress sense and no social skills, I had what is known as “potential.” I suppose the downside of “potential” is that it usually leads to “potential squandered,” but there were at least a good few months there when people were willing to give that kid a chance, because they thought they saw something glimmering beneath the surface, a diamond-glint amongst the clay, and they felt the sudden urge to throw caution to the wind and take a gamble on some chump who might not have great hair, or dress sense, or social skills, but by gum he’s got that something. And maybe they were drunk.
Of course, as a teenager, I was also only dimly aware that things had actually happened before I was born (wars and perhaps dinosaurs, if my education serves me correctly). But history has a way of running up and punching you in the goolies, as I found out too infrequently.
At about 17 or 18 I was asked to perform in a play commemorating an historical moment in the history of Warrandyte, a small town on the Victorian coast. The event in question was the collapse of coal mine many decades ago; I played a young miner, Bert, who was trapped in the collapse alongside the many who died from the disaster. The play was nothing special, dramatically, but it had a major significance to many of the elderly townsfolk who recalled the incident from their childhood. And as I was leaving the auditorium a man of perhaps 80 stepped towards me and introduced himself. “I’m Bert,” he said in embarrassment. “I was you.”
It’s hard to say what responsibility a director has when dealing with a real historical catastrophe, especially when those who survived are still alive. These are the problems Lucy Guerin has faced with her latest work, Structure and Sadness, presented as part of the Melbourne Fest. Her show is dedicated to the workers who died in the collapse of the West Gate Bridge in 1970, but the show itself isn’t a dedication, or a recreation. It’s something more, and I think it’s a works.
Creating a dance piece centred on a real tragedy is a big ask, and Guerin has made a wise choice, I think, in going for an impressionistic response rather than a literal one. The work tries to evoke both the physical forces at play in the construction of massive structures as well as the human response to great calamity. I think it succeeds.
It’s hard to be objective about the end result since I’ve been following it for some time now (I was even thanked in the program, to my surprise). But having spoken to some of the people involved in the bridge’s collapse way back when, I think they’d be proud of the result. I hope that none of the dancers have a Bert moment. But it’s a pretty powerful moment to have, and I think that their Bert would have shed a tear during the show.