Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Levitas (Melb Arts Fest 06 part 1)

A friend of mine was recently telling me how, during a trip to Florence, he became transfixed at the window of a tiny shop selling (as he put it) "pope costumes". I asked if he'd bought one, since a number of circumstances in which papal threads would prove handy sprang immediately to mind (pulled over for cycling without a helmet; Jehovah's witnesses at the door; passed out in primary school sandpit). No, he explained, not costumes: this was where the bishops and prelates and I-don't-know-the-terms went to pick up this season's latest outfit ("What is this!? I told you I'm an autumn, infidel!"). I don't know to what extent mitre styles are dictated by Milan, but I imagine that like any item of clothing, wear and tear is inevitable, and a change of wardrobe is at some point necessary (is it blasphemy to suggest that addressing a crowd of a thousand faithful could perhaps up the perspiration rate and leave Il Papa a bit pongy?) And so, here in this tiny, dimly lit shop, little ninety year-old staffers shuffle about tending to the racks and the little ninety-year old men looking to buy something from them. I like that image. It has levity.

The concept of levity is, I think, very important.

When the pope drops by Casa di Firenze to refresh his walk-in-robes, what happens to the outfits he throws away? Does he donate them to the poor, the homeless? If I'm ever asked for spare change by someone got up like a cardinal, I'll swear eternal fealty to the church, believe me. If not, where do those robes go? To the Vatican staff, so that would-be assassins stealing into the Holy City are inundated with popes stirring broth and mopping marble and chatting up nuns before the tabernacle? Are they burned in a ceremony bordering on the profane? Or is there a secret that's been kept hidden for centuries, something to rival the Da Vinci Code in its combination of intrigue and inconsequence, a cover-up for what happens to the things that cover-up the high-ups?

Yesterday I got styled. Agreeing to a work assignment of a potentially ill-advised character (my boss today actually uttered the words "I don't think I should be encouraging this predilection") I agreed to hand my image and good sense over to a professional stylist, his assistant, a hair and makeup artist and a photographer with an unhealthily good sense of humour. What was I thinking? Would I be transformed into some bronzed He-Man deserving of a laurel crown?

Or would I, like Fabio, end up looking like a fallen idol bashed in the grill by an errant goose? Worst-like, would I be found gurgling in a haze of hairspray and 'product', halfway to comatosis, a gaggle of colleagues wiping the gunk from my pallid face as I uttered the immortal words of Ghostbusters' Venkman:

He styled me.

You'll have to wait and see.

Last Thursday I was due to attend the opening of the Melbourne International Arts Festival's 1984. Work commitments prevented me from making it, and to be honest, I was kind of ok with that. I'd read reviews that repeatedly mentioned the word "shouty"; if you want to turn me off a show, that's pretty much the first button you need to mash. I can appreciate a lot of theatrical modes. Gimme some Theatre of Cruelty, a side serving of Theatre of Catastrophe, with a dollop of Theatre of the Oppressed for good measure. The appetite's there. But Theatre of Shoutiness? I've had my fill, thanks (subtext: fill=university).

I won't review 1984, since I clearly ain't seen it. And it wouldn't be wrong to say that my reluctance to check it out is due to its reported didacticism, its literalism, the way it takes an obvious point (uhhhh...fascism is, like, totally sucky) and yells it at you for two hours. There's a lack of levity, it seems.

But what's this levity deal all about?

Generally, I've always thought of myself as a big fan of levity's opposite, gravity. A production with weight, with an immanence that grounds it firmly in the earth, rather than presenting itself as something disposable, the flyaway hairs that resist the brush and you only hope won't be visible to outsiders; that's the thing.

But I don't know, really. Sure, last year's MIAF-sponsored presentation of Le Dernier Caravanserail was probably the most impactful show I've ever seen, and will ever see, and it was also a dramatisation of one of the most crucial crises to face the contemporary world (the situation of The Refugee).

And last Sunday's performance of Ros Warby's Monumental was an exercise in levity, despite the show's title. Warby is a dancer of immaculate precision, perhaps the most accomplished mover I've seen, every twitch and quiver a measured and immaculate thought embodied. The show plays with the classic, iconic balletic images of the Swan and the Soldier, but doesn't speak them, rather tickling our preconceptions to work against the grain. Warby knows her business, for sure; the show isn't an earnest plea for something-or-rather, but offers instead the kind of playful pointlessness only a master of the form can toy with. Ballet fans with intellect would find much to revel in here; I found it a skeletal dance, too light to gain a foothold anywhere I'm likely to be standing.

But isn't that the essence of levity? The opposite of gravity, the term signifies something impossible, the absence of weight, yet something equally sought (cos dammit, isn't zero-G the ultimate goal?!? No need to answer). Isn't the opposite of weight something purely theoretical? Can lightness achieve reality? Can levitas signify gravitas?

Romeo Castellucci's Tragedia Endogonidia finds the balance, in my opinion. I tend to agree with one judge, while finding myself at odds (critically speaking) with several others.

More to come.


Anonymous said...

1984 seems to be tough to adapt. Robert Lepage's opera version received poor reviews when it opened in London last year.


Anonymous said...

Monumental seems to be my big miss - I'm cursing I didn't get to see it. Too many people have told me it was wonderful.