Thursday, December 25, 2008

AND SO THIS IS CHRISTMAS


"REPRAZENT"

Yesterday I went to church. I haven't done that for a long time. Not that I don't like churches (I do) but I'm not exactly what you'd call the religious type. I don't mind if you believe in your magical man who lives in the sky and sees everything you do, any more than I mind if you believe in a magical man who lives at the North Pole and has similar powers of perception. Your choice.

But what got me about this church service (apart from the priest leading everyone in singing Happy Birthday to Jesus - I kid ye not) was the little kid in front of me who was watching a movie on his Dad's iPhone. What the devil? In my day you had to suffer through the thing like everybody else and there was no way little baby Jesus was letting anyone get away with watching TV during his Special Time. I guess things have changed.


In Caracas it's a Christmas custom to rollerskate to church on the Big Day. That's so awesome I'm tempted to move to Venezuela and become a devout believer just so's I can partake in such a brilliant Xmas tradition. Also, the convention of abbreviating the word to Xmas is nothing to do with the secularisation of the holiday, as people told me growing up, but stems back to the Eastern Orthodox habit of representing Jesus' name with an X or similar. No disrespecting the Lord there.


Here's a handy family tree illustrating the genealogy of Santa. Any chart that includes Jagermeister, Al Jolson and yowies is fine by me.


Here is a scary-looking Santa.



All Santa brought me this year was a couple of broken ribs which makes it hard to laugh, so I'm being even more Scroogey and frowny than usual. But for cheer's sake, here's the smooth voice and latent alcoholism of Don Ho singing Tiny Bubbles for your ecumenical festive enjoyment. Here's to the golden moon, here's to the silver sea!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Where I'm At (or Have Been)


People have been saying (in my head) Born Dancin', FTW? What happened to Ant Fact Monday? And the other crap?

My answer is brief.



Also, on top of my awesome synth-pop fantasy adventures I have been moving house, writing a PhD, holding down a job and highkicking ninjas for a week or more. Without an internet connection, which admittedly wasn't a prob for the ninja problem. But these compounded problems have, according to my chiropractor, compacted my spine by a centimetre and a half (all fixed now). Please excuse my absence, and don't take it personally.


The joy of dance will return soon.


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

ALL OF YOU, STOP MAKING ART!

I MEAN IT! Stop right now.

There is enough art already and we just don't need any more to add to the pile. I know some of you will have objections.

But it’s just instinctual, I’m naturally creative.

Civilisation is founded on the suppression of certain supposedly “natural” instincts; furthermore, as conscious beings we have the ability to choose which of our instincts we follow. Own your consciousness – choose not to create.

I come from a family of artists.

You are still seeking the approval of your parents and have introjected their expectations of you. This superego thing is controlling your life.

I think all acts of creation have value.

You have idealistic notions of art which suggest that you haven’t been in contact with much of it.

I am a recognised artist whose works have been praised.

You are a narcissist whose self-worth is dependent on others.

It’s my livelihood.

You are a capitalist who implicitly supports a system which encourages class division.

I want something that will endure when I am gone.

You have a fear of death which only be maintained by the production of art which, in any form, is susceptible to decay, degradation or disappearance into history’s ash.

Art is what separates us from the animals.

You have a fear of animals. Go to the zoo or out into the country to confront this fear (but please don’t paint the animals or anything).

I want to give voice to the oppressed, to those silenced by our society.

You want to further that oppression by speaking for others.

Art is a spiritual/life-affirming/personal growth experience.

You want to avoid real life. Try volunteer work.

I just love art.

Borrow other people’s art.

My art could change the world.

You have a messiah complex. Don’t project your hopes onto art, just change the world yourself.

I spent a lot of money on an art degree.

You were never, ever going to make that money back.

My parents spent a lot of money on an art degree.

You are not responsible for your parents’ poor financial decisions. Don’t make the same mistakes they did.

The arts are a vital aspect of our economy.

Art shortages only make existing art more valuable.

The arts are a vital aspect of our culture.

You have a fear of other cultures.

The arts allow us to pass on valuable lessons to our children.

Speak to children. Become a teacher. Not an art teacher.

I can’t do anything else.

That’s a decent reason I suppose.

I want to create something that demonstrates my thoughts and feelings about the world.

You feel that nobody listens to you and that your opinions are somehow unique. Start a blog.

I want to make something that will bring pleasure/joy to others.

Don’t ignore currently available sources of pleasure/joy. Get a job in advertising to promote these sources.

Art is empowering.

So is a sound understanding of the cultural structures which engender disempowerment.

I’ll never know if I’m a great artist unless I give it shot.

Just assume you are and never allow yourself to be proven wrong.


SO JUST STOP OK THANK YOU.

Monday, November 24, 2008

ANT FACT MONDAY


There have been a series of scurrilous rumours circulating around the internet suggesting that ANT FACT MONDAY will not be making its much anticipated return. Well let me scotch those rumours right now. That’s right, scotch ‘em. Wrap them in a (faux-)meat paste, smother them in breadcrumbs and whack them in the deep-fryer.



ACTUAL SCOTCH EGGS ACTUALLY PHOTOGRAPHED BY ME IN 2005 SOMEWHERE IN ENGLAND’S WEST.

Now let us proceed with vim and vigour since I am aware you are all time poor and I do not wish to contribute to your temporal poverty.

ANT FACT MONDAY

Ants have no lungs. They are small enough that the air which moves through them is enough to provide the oxygen they require.

Some kinds of ants can use the earth’s magnetic field to determine their location in relation to home.

Some species of ant can join up to form bridges over water. I have seen a documentary showing this process and it is fascinating.

There is a trail of ants who pass by my window every day during the daylight hours but not at night. Some ants in desert climates only travel at night, however, since the day is too hot for them.

No ants have ever come into my current house to forage for food, although a couple have come in the window by getting lost. I put them back onto the window sill and they carry on.

I’ve followed this trail of ants and it travels throughout my neighbourhood every day and goes away at night. It’s a long trail. I don’t know why they don’t come into the house.

Ants can tell their colony-mates by their distinct smell, but if an ant wanders off for too long it loses the smell. I don’t know what happens then, or if they can now join another colony because they are scentless.

Some indigenous groups in Northern Queensland have traditionally used the vitamin-rich green ant for medicinal purposes. I was once offered a green ant by an old lady so I could taste it. I didn’t want to kill the ant so she held it carefully and told me to lick it. I closed my eyes when I did so and ended up licking the old lady’s knuckle, which was weird. It tasted like a soft walnut. The ant tasted like a lime.

AND THUS ENDS TODAY’S FAIRLY ANECDOTAL ANT FACT MONDAY…

OR SHOULD THAT BE “ANT-ECDOTAL?”

Perhaps!

As you can see, with this exciting new enterprise at Born Dancin’, there are now even fewer reasons to bother visiting other sites on the internet!

Friday, November 21, 2008

A Smattering of Responses

THE WOMEN OF TROY

I did not like this piece. I mean, if you meet someone who “liked” it I’d suggest taking a few slow steps back while eyeing the exits. It’s not meant to be liked. But I didn’t appreciate it either. I thought it was exploitative torture porn. Like the Hostel or Saw films, but presented under the aegis of Greek tragedy and with the stamp of Barrie Kosky to make it ok to watch. It was a catalogue of horrors and a sensory assault on the audience. Deafening gunshots going off around the audience unexpectedly – and often – and degraded, brutalised women and children being murdered and raped and photographed. Ok, it’s in the script, it really happened, etc. but Kosky’s appropriation of imagery from Abu Ghraib and other contemporary sites of human depravity are gratuitous and, worse, wonderfully imaginative. The violence is artfully realised and even aestheticised at times.

The monstrosities of Abu Ghraib were made so much worse by the way they were recorded, and I’ve got a lot of thoughts about the complicity involved in viewing any of those images. Seeing violence makes the witness a part of the event, and staging it therefore carries with it a great burden of responsibility. In another context, Tommy Pynchon has written that “when we speak of ‘seriousness’ in fiction ultimately we are talking about an attitude toward death--how characters may act in its presence, for example, or how they handle it when it isn't so immediate.” I guess my problem is that The Women of Troy is to me no more meaningful or “serious” than a gross-out horror film, but at least Hostel challenges its audience by not pretending to be other than it is. I don’t know what this production is pretending to be. But I did not like it.


AVAST

I liked this piece. When I was a professional rapper (c. 1997-2001) I learnt a lot about the relationship between spontaneous freestyling and pre-planned preparedness, and the Black Lung guys have this down pat. It’s like a post-Apocalyptic Moby Dick scripted by Takashi Miike. It’s complete anarchy, which can only be achieved through incredibly tight control. Someone who worked with Tim Etchells/Forced Entertainment recently told me that Etchells’ apparently chaotic works (like Bloody Mess) are the result of his being a complete fascist as a director. Which makes sense.

Here’s an awesome clip from the Wombles.




I haven’t seen Avast II: The Welshman Cometh but I’m up for it tomorrow night so I might report back then.


COLLAPSE

As theatre this new piece from Red Cabbage is a bit undercooked but as an installation experience it’s freaking incredible. It’s HUGE.

HUGE.


And it involves a boat trip, more post-apocalyptic imagery and some of the best set design you’ll ever see. Imagine a Hayloft piece mashed up with the vastness of Peepshow Inc’s Mysteries of the Convent and a bit of Herbertson/Cobham’s Sunstruck.

It’s vision of a bleak future veers well away from the Mad Max-style post-apoc imagery and instead tends toward the austere, sublime decay of Tarkovsky’s Stalker (closest comparison I could think of here). The audience travels on a long, meandering journey, and while our attention wasn’t controlled in the sophisticated way Mysteries of the Convent managed to achieve, Collapse is more interested in establishing multiple occurrences simultaneously (Greenaway is noted in the program as an influence in this regard). The result is that there’s not really a strong narrative to follow, but the cumulative effect of passing through increasingly astonishing set-pieces is stunning. Highly recommended – its good points more than make up for any shortcomings.



SO YOU THINK YOU CAN COW

I really wanted to Cow. When I heard the title of this piece I was already sold, but when I read that an audience member would be given the opportunity to dress as a giant cow and receive on-the-spot directorial instructions from Margaret Cameron and Aphids’ David Young I signed up toot sweet. My girlfriend wasn’t so sold and it took a bit of convincing to get her along, but half an hour later she was wearing a massive cow costume, sunglasses and oversized headphones doing a naaaasty dance to the Flashdance theme in front of a decent audience. I felt a bit guilty. We were hearing a meditative eastern tune, after all, so it kind of looked as if she had gone mad and been possessed by the spirit of some erotic bovine deity. But it was luck-of-the-draw – four audience members were picked from a hat and suited up for the challenge. And everyone involved had a pretty good time. The piece itself needs some development, but it’s a work in progress so that’ll happen. I’m not entirely sure of the point but the show’s backbone seems to be an explora
tion of the relationships between audience and performer. I’ll be there next milking session.


Hmmm. I’ve seen a bunch of other things lately but am running out of steam. I’m really just waiting on a phone call regarding an EXCITING NEW ADVENTURE. Hint: giant clockwork cats, the Warren Beatty movie Shampoo, bluegrass music and an underground collective of grifters known as “the Knucklebone Boys”. Also: I have accepted that I will never in this life be able to “call in an airstrike” as sometimes happens in movies.



THIS IS WHAT IS CALLED A "RAILROAD WATCH".

Monday, November 17, 2008

ANT FACT MONDAY

OK EVERYBODY.

I know a lot of people have been clamouring at the gates demanding to know what happened to ANT FACT MONDAY.

The answer is complex but I will attempt to put this shit simply: this internet website blog has never had a thing called ANT FACT MONDAY and, furthermore, I have never referred (personally or professionally) to a thing called ANT FACT MONDAY.

Nevertheless, I will bow to the will of the people (cf. democracy) and institute a regularly occurring thing called ANT FACT MONDAY which will include MILDLY INTERESTING ANT FACTS.



First up today:

ANTS: WHAT ARE SOME FACTS?

Ants have elbowed antennae.

Ants may be the only things beside humans to teach each other interactively - not by imitation but through instruction and feedback but not whiteboards.

Ants make up around 15% of the TOTAL biomass of animal life on the planet. That's heaps.

When ants find a bunch of food, they leave little pheromone markers along the route leading to it so other ants can come along too. That's why they travel along in lines like little highways.

Also, when they're going to and fro on their little highways, they stop and nudge each other on the nose for some reason. I know they don't actually have noses, but they definitely stop for a millisecond and butt heads. Maybe they're giving each other high fives or kisses or just saying hi. I am deeply curious about this phenomenon.

AND THUS ENDS ANT FACT MONDAY FOR THIS MONDAY.

More facts next Monday probably.


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Friday, November 07, 2008

THIS IS ALL

THE LOWER DEPTHS


I spent the first half of this production deeply perplexed. I'm a big fan of Gogol but couldn't work out where he found the time to write this sprawling play. I mean when he first hit the Western radar in 1977 it was deep in the Cold War where he managed to form an alliance with M that was to be strained but kept relatively civil in ensuing decades. He must have been working 24/7 when Hugo Drax built his space station and by 1983 he was having to bust General Orlov's ass for his crazy world-domination scheming.



He even put up with Pola Ivanova's bungling and was open-minded enough to award an Order of Lenin medal to a British spy. In short, he was a busy guy. So how did he manage to pump out a big play like this?


"IT'S A CALLING"

Then I realised that I was mixing my Gogols!


"SAY WHAT?"

I should have been thinking of the Russian author Nikolai Vasilievich Gogol! And he didn't even write The Lower Depths, Maxim Gorky did! The one from Gorky Park!

Oh boy was I embarrassed.


"AS WELL YOU SHOULD BE lol"

I have a bit of a problem with Russian theatre. Not the recent stuff, just the classics. Actually, I suppose I have a problem with classics in general. I don't enjoy watching Chekhov but then I don't enjoy watching Brecht or Ibsen or Shakespeare either. There are exceptions - Hayloft's Platonov was great and I'm looking forward to Titus - but that's because the texts aren't handled with kid gloves in those cases.

I don't think Ariette Taylor's production of The Lower Depths handles the script too cautiously either, and it's a first-rate piece. The acting is outstanding and the design is beautiful (even if half the audience can't see one particular part of the space because it's behind them for some reason). I'm just not into Russian social realism of the early twentieth century. If I want to see people in blankets with hacking coughs struggling against institutionalised oppression and questioning the meaning of life I'll talk to people on Melbourne's streets. I like theatre that deals with that, not a La Boheme kind of romanticised impoverished past.

Then again, the classics are classics for a reason and this is a very good production of one of them. And I do think it's pretty ace that Gorky took on the name (not his real name) because it literally means "bitter". I left this show at interval, though, not through any fault of the production itself but just through my own inability to engage with the text. And I'm still dealing with the time, years ago, when I struggled through Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov. Praised as it may be, that brick of a novel felt like a month of being whacked in the Gogols with a 1 kilo book.



PLAY:GROUND

Last night I went to Play:Ground in the Carlton Gardens. It’s a Master of Theatre Practice project about child soldiers. It is largely performed by children. As the program notes, though, it is also not suitable for children. I got there late, was up the back and didn’t have much of a clue as to what was happening so I’ll go again tonight. One of the cast bios is as follows: “i am six. i like to run. i have a dog. my dog’s name is nelly. i live near the city. if i was in war, i would hide.”


SCATTERED TACKS

I also whipped up to The Village in Edinburgh Gardens afterwards to catch Scattered Tacks again. Brilliant stuff. It’s on again tonight at 8pm I believe.


THAT IS ALL

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Melbourne International Arts Festival (4)

APPETITE

Why has (nearly) every review of this show been served up with a big mug of haterade? Seriously, it wasn't that bad. It wasn't the pre-digested airline food of Boeing Boeing. It wasn't even the stinky belch that was Scarlett O'Hara at the Crimson Parrot. So it was kind of undercooked and the ingredients didn't gel, but everyone's acting like someone served them a fart sandwich and called it Lean Cuisine.

Some pros: I thought the dancers did a great job of acting. Carlee Mellow was especially surprising - she was one of the dancers who suffered in the spoken word section of Axeman Lullaby, and in Appetite she created a credible, sympathetic character.

Contrary to everyone else I thought Sally Seltmann's music was effective, even if it was a bit heavy-handed. And I'm pretty sure it would have made a difference if she had been able to play live, as planned.

Some cons: the scenario itself was pedestrian (I'd say bourgeois but calling anything bourgeois is itself pretty bourgeois). I don't care about people having middle-class crises at dinner parties, mainly because I don't get invited to dinner parties and have to have my emotional meltdowns in normal places like public transport and theatre foyers.

And most of all: was that a real suckling pig on stage? Were they real lobsters? I seriously want to know. I've seen a lot of dead animals in theatres in the past few years (not a metaphor) and I think people slamming the aesthetic shortcomings of a show like Appetite are asking the right question about the wrong thing. As Coetzee puts it: "is this truly the best that human beings are capable of?" He's not talking about theatre.


SAMUEL BECKETT: ENDGAME 1958-2008

Sup-OIB!


THAT NIGHT FOLLOWS DAY

'you tell us stories about kids with stupid parents.

Kids with parents that don't understand
Kids with parents who can't see magic,
or kids with parents who don't know that certain relatives are creatures in disguise'


Adults were laughing during this show, which really unnerved me. 16 Flemish kids in a fake school gym were yelling at the audience: "You feed us", "You bathe us", "You whisper when you think we can’t hear". The entire performance follows this accusative format - you do this, you do that. We care about children. So we tell them lies. We hand them our prejudices and fears and hopes.



Adults were laughing during this show because the spoken text - projected on a blackboard in English translation - was pretty funny. It wasn't so funny if you actually watched the performers, who were angry, made constant direct eye contact with audience members and delivered their lines with overpowering passion. I later heard that the script had been written without much input from the actors since, you know, kids would have just come up with stuff about rainbows and playstations or something. This is second-hand info but it's pretty disappointing if true, and defeats the whole point of the piece.

My sister interviewed one of the performers (Ineke) for her documentary Eleven and was told that her (the actor's) favourite part was the one dealing with all the bad stuff.

'That Grandad can't stop drinking
That Aunt Ellie has a big mouth
That Grant is a tearaway
That Joan has dyed hair
That Frankie wears a wig
That Jennie has a terrible cancer
That Jamie does not wash
That Rosie looks ridiculous in that dress
That John is making a total fool of himself over Tina and that everyone knows it, and that everyone is talking about it.

Another poem:
Philip Larkin - This Be The Verse

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.

They may not mean to, but they do.

They fill you with the faults they had

And add some extra, just for you.


But they were fucked up in their turn

By fools in old-style hats and coats,

Who half the time were soppy-stern

And half at one another's throats.


Man hands on misery to man.

It deepens like a coastal shelf.

Get out as early as you can,

And don't have any kids yourself.


Then again. Kids aren’t empty vessels who suck up the lies they’re told. They know, sometimes. Sometimes not. Either way, I suppose the real reason I related to this show so much is that it tapped into something a lot of people feel – we are lied to, and misrepresented, and given ridiculously conflicting messages. Maybe this show isn’t about age at all. Or maybe adulthood is about accepting this situation. I still say 'grown-up' instead of 'adult' which suggests I probably haven't grown up at all.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Melbourne International Arts Festival (3)

IF I SING TO YOU


Deborah Hay has done it again! The renowned US choreographer is back up to her old tricks in this hilarious, madcap romp that veers between outrageous satire and chin-stroking lecture like an out-of-control dune buggy piloted by a blindfolded hula girl being attacked by pigeons. There's dinosaur suits, animated store dummies, a melancholy interlude featuring the captain from the Flight Centre commercials and cranberries - so many cranberries! Plus it's all set to the driving beat of Imagination's 1982 disco hit Just An Illusion.

Wait a minute! That's not If I Sing To You! It would be great, sure, but so is If I Sing To You. Problem is, I can't really think of a way of describing this show without making it sound boring (or at least boring to me). Huge empty stage, six dancers doing Deb Hay stuff, often not doing much at all. It's brilliant and I felt glad I finally got to see the choreographer's work first hand. Still, if you were a newcomer to performance it would probably be the sort of thing to turn you off for life. So thick, so dense, so ethereal and snow-flakey that even the act of watching it causes it to begin to crumble. So imagine what describing it on this here blog would do to it!

I did have a bit during the performance where I began thinking of a performance that includes the audience being taken on an airplane. How rad would that be? You unsuspectingly turn up to Tullamarine
and part of the performance is on the plane and then some of it occurs at your destination and then back again. A bit of an IRAA piece. I do know that there is a work coming up that includes a section on a boat (a real boat) in Williamstown. That'll have to do for now.

An aside: here is a video of Bjork explaining how her television works (sort of). It is wonderful. "You shouldn't let poets lie to you."



Another aside: here are some reimagined book covers. Excellent.


The Children's Choice Awards are a great MIAF initiative. A bunch of kids are attending and reviewing the MIAF program. Go to the blog where they're keeping a running commentary. It's great. It also had me thinking once again about how critics, audiences and artists are always so eager to a) talk about kids and b) talk about the need for "dialogue" and "discussion" in the arts world but almost never listen to children. Children's voices are far more interesting than most adults as they're not filled with cliches and increasingly empty terms (see "dialogue" and "discussion"). This was what I was thinking about during the whole Bill Henson dialogue/discussion.


21:100:100

This sound installation at Gertrude Contemporary Art Spaces is worth checking out if you've got a free minute (or 1000 free minutes). It's 100 sets of headphones playing 100 different works ranging from familiar avant-artists (Sonic Youth, Chicks on Speed, Sun O)))) to really, really out-there stuff (Japanese artist Junko's extended a cappella screaming track). A lot of the pieces come from Japan, Germany, Australia or the US, not surprisingly, but the range overall is huge. That's probably the only problem - there must be thousands of hours of sound in this one space, so your experience will be a bit of a chance operation game. It's beautifully presented, though, and the one-way mirror onto Gertrude St means you can stare at passing Fitzroy traffic while listening to some amazing sounds.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Melbourne International Arts Festival (2)

EL AUTOMOVIL GRIS

I was at the hairdresser the other day demanding the restoration of my coiff's practiced disarray (as opposed to the actual, lazy disarray which has now returned) and was part of an fascinating exchange between my hair guy and his 17-year-old assistant. Said assistant was raving on about Guitar Hero, the console game where you play a plastic guitar and try to replicate the playing of classic rock or pop or metal or whatever. It’s incredibly hard.

Hair Guy: All that effort - why don't you just learn the guitar?
Assistant: Because you can't win points playing a normal guitar. And you can't beat people online with a normal guitar.

Wha? I felt old. Still, it had me thinking – music as point-scoring competition seems strange, but isn’t the real point she was making about how Guitar Hero is a social activity? A game whose relevance is between its players, not located in any one of them?

It also had me thinking about the collision of art forms/media: music and TV and computer games and the internet. Which leads us to El Automovil Gris.

I was transfixed for the 90 minutes of this show, often laughing out loud. Quite a few people around me were having nanna naps. It’s not for everyone.

The Mexican group Teatro de Ciertos Habitantes have made a mash-up of a Mexican silent film from 1919, modern digital technology, the antiquated Japanese art of the Benshi and contemporary live performance. Benshi were performers who gave live audio accompaniment to silent films in late Meiji/early Taisho Japan, giving voice to characters, adding narration, and sometimes wandering off into original interpretive regions (singing songs, reciting poems etc).

Here, the original film gets proper treatment from the only remaining Benshi in Japan, who initially speaks in Japanese. I couldn’t understand her but the textures of the voices she used were just great, giving the sense of what was going on on-screen. They were also often hilarious, ridiculous in the way that modern anime voices frequently are.

Eventually things broadened – more performers, subtitles which increasingly went off-track, dance or song routines, the narration and subtitling bringing in opera, absurd comedy, nonsense languages, animal noises. I found it brilliant, but then silent film is something I’ve been trained to appreciate, and it can be pretty tough going. I see it like dance in a way – you need to switch yourself into a different mode of viewing. Anyway, two thumbs up from me.


ENGLAND

I wish I’d seen Tim Crouch’s ENGLAND before his an oak tree. I enjoyed it a lot more – the second half at least. There are some common elements to both.

Crouch sure likes to smile. If there were smiling competitions somewhere in the world (there probably are) he’d be like the Michael Phelps of grinning. Depending on your mood, he can come across as expansive and welcoming or really, really smarmy. That worked fine for an oak tree since he was playing a shabby pub hypnotist, but I found it grating here.

In ENGLAND Crouch and collaborator Hannah Ringham play two art gallery guides, leading us around the Ian Potter NGV and occasionally referring to the space and the art but not that much. The piece is more concerned with delivering a non-linear narrative about a person with a bad heart and a boyfriend. Crouch and Ringham both play this person, delivering an overlapping monologue that does a good job of fracturing the character’s identity (one character, two performers) but doesn’t really have much to do with the environment. The boyfriend (we hear a LOT about him) is an art dealer. Crouch and Ringham say “LOOK!” repeatedly, since that’s the title of the exhibition we’re in and presumably a gesture towards making the piece site-specific. I suppose it’s also meant to have extra levels of meaning – pointing out how we look without really seeing the truth of others – but I’d love to see how the show would have worked in a past exhibition such as “Spirit of Football”.

The second half of the thing takes us to a different space and time – a year later – where the narrator now confronts the wife of the man who saved his life. It’s a waaaay richer sequence, which amps up the drama unexpectedly. It also made me wish the first half was that strong. It’s also when people stop smiling, which is nice. I don’t know where the hell The Boyfriend went, though.

ENGLAND is really about the notion of transplantation - medical transplants, cultural transplants, the transplantation of art and history and cultures. My experience of transplants as a theme has largely been confined to movies where some innocent gets lumped with the hands of a murderer or the heart of a baboon or something, which rarely qualifies as high art. I'm still hankering to see a film about the guy who gets hair-plugs and starts having visions of stables and groomers and an insatiable desire for oats. Everyone starts admiring his flanks and he develops a fetish for dragging people around the city in a cart and defecating on Swanston St. Eventually he discovers that his new rug came from a destroyed horse named Pinkles and he has to bust open the animal abuse case that led to Pinkle's death before the horse's spirit can move on. I'd probably call it The Mane Man or Mounting Tension or My Rug Was Once A Horse or something equally catchy.

As is, though, ENGLAND isn’t that catchy until it’s halfway done. It’s almost a spoken-word piece, and could work just as well as a radio play. The themes are interesting, the performances a bit static. Like I say, I found the second half pretty thought-provoking, but it takes a while to get anywhere that you especially care to be. Ultimately, the piece suggests the uselessness of art in a very impactful way but that’s one of the most dangerous themes for an artist to play with. In effect, it highlights the uselessness of the first half of the piece. So, yeah, ok.


SUNSTRUCK


What a sensational experience – this is the sort of dance that goes straight past the analytical, verbal parts of your brain to tickle the primal lizardy bits hanging around from the (really) olden days. Watching it, I felt a bit like the apes at the start of 2001, confronted by this alien, sublime THING that would evolve me if I got too close.

Not evolve like this (thanks Defamer):



Which is beautiful and cruel. More like this:


Helen Herbertson and Ben Cobham have made one of those rare dance works that words simply can’t do justice to. Any description will reduce the piece. It’s a wonderful synergy of design and choreography that emphasises different experiences of time and the moment, both meticulously planned and utterly open to spontaneity. That’s all I’ll say.


CORRIDOR

Lucy Guerin’s works often have “communication” as an explicit or implicit theme, but her choreography isn’t dialectical in the way that, say, Two Faced Bastard was. It’s not about finding the conflict between two opposing forces and exploring that tension to reach a third space (the Full Stage of Two Faced). It’s more about physical possibility as its own end, with ideas like communication simply the spur to these movements.

I don’t think Corridor should be read for what it ‘says’, then, simply what it does. There’s some fantastic movement here, and an intriguing through-line which explores how movement itself moves between bodies. The six dancers are given commands in a variety of ways – spoken commands through mp3 players, whispered to one another, through microphones, written on walls etc.

The whole thing takes place on a long strip, with audience seated one row deep on either side. It’s akin to a tennis match, as you continually swivel to follow dancers in either direction. In a fantastic early sequence the preformers “pass” movements, where each copies another dancer’s motions in a kind of daisy-chain or Chinese whispers way. The difference between each dancer’s form becomes an act of translation, in which something is both lost and gained as the same choreography echoes through six very different figures. I didn’t at first realise that people at either end were aping one another, though, since it was impossible to see both at once. There was a lot of this in the show – slowly realising exactly what was occurring, obfuscated by the limitations of your own perception.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Melbourne International Arts Festival (1)

an oak tree

Theatre is hypnosis. I'll go with that. It seems to be one of the implications of an oak tree. It's a productive way of thinking about the piece, anyway.

Two things about hypnosis. Firstly: someone being hypnotised needs to be willing. It's like a contract. The subject needs to make a decision, to sign the contract, to invest something in the exchange. It's similar to the suspension of disbelief a theatregoer must actively consent to. You can't *trick* a subject of hypnosis or an audience member without them giving you permission at a certain (even subconscious) level.

Secondly: public hypnosis - the gaudy TV "act like a chicken" stuff is different. Here, the permission usually comes as a result of being in the spotlight, being watched and judged by a crowd, and being part of a crowd too. There's an element of fear involved, and it takes an incredible amount of...something... to be the person who decides to break the illusion, to be the one person who refuses to play the game. In public hypnosis, to be the sole person not acting like a chicken is tantamount to speaking out loudly during an MTC show, or climbing onto the stage to question the proceedings.

So: an oak tree seemed to be playing on these ideas, but does so in such an incredibly controlled, restrained way that I felt vaguely disgusted at certain points. Tim Crouch has a masterful, iron-clad grip on its unfolding and - frankly - I didn't give him permission. I didn't trust him enough to allow him to dictate my response, and he seemed to be playing with his audience in precisely that way. From his first appearance he worked the crowd like the consummate showman, eliciting laughs not for doing anything entertaining but for mimicking the forms of performance which we've been trained to laugh at - his beaming smile, his self-deprecation, his pretenses at liveness and spontaneity. The audience becomes a Pavlovian dog.

And his "second actor" - a different local actor each night who arrives with no knowledge of the script or performer - is a hand puppet. I saw Kim Gygnell, a hugely experienced and wise stage performer, being fed lines and told how to respond to cues, commanded around the space and pretty much denied the use of his own talents. There was even a point at which Crouch had to correct him - twice! - for going off-script by reacting to a cue in a way that didn't fit Crouch's version of the show. Why is an actor being put in this position?

In a sense, an oak tree is about the power of suggestion and our control over our responses to the world we encounter, but Crouch as puppetmaster drains all of the liveness from the show and so brilliantly becomes the master hypnotist that there's no risk, no chance, and ultimately nothing at stake. The apparent drama (of a hypnotist confronted by the father of a child he killed while driving) was the biggest problem for me: I didn't sign that contract, I didn't suspend that disbelief, and so I didn't care.

At an early point in the show, Crouch as hypnotist-character tells us he's looking for volunteers from the audience to come up and be put under. A moment later Crouch-as-Crouch-character tells us that we are not really allowed to come up on stage, because we are playing an audience at a hypnotist's show. And so we stayed in our seats, acting like chickens. That's theatre.


Desert Island Dances


Wendy Houstoun's a beautiful dancer who plays with her audience by withholding a lot of that for most of this solo piece. It's a slow, quiet minimal rumination on the movements she's been given over her life so far, choreographed and otherwise. There's a lot of talking to the audience, seemingly off-the-cuff thoughts on whatever comes to mind, though in reality there's a particular structure and considered progression to the work. It's quite challenging in its reticence - in the way talk fills a void without necessarily giving it substance. It's certainly not a piece for lovers of pure dance, given that there isn't a huge amount of actual dancing going on. In fact, it's only near the end, when she repeats earlier movements and credits them to their originators, that I noticed how much more choreography had been going on in understated, non-showy ways. It's an interesting show, but not one of great magic and wonder. I'm looking forward to Houstoun's Happy Hour as a contrast to this piece.


The Big Game

The only thing sweeter than the smell of success is the acrid stench of failure, especially in the form of a little kid who has just lost a competitive game in front of hundreds of strangers. That's The Big Game, really, in which six kids pulled from the audience compete on a giant boardgame as hordes watch and cheer them on. A dice is rolled and they advance around the space, landing on spots that dictate activities (races, dances, drawing, pulling faces etc). Their success of failure is determined by three clowning Game Masters in an apparently arbitrary fashion, and the first to finish a complete circuit wins.

Which means we're left with five losers. I don't mean to get all Montessori on you here, but I couldn't help but be bemused by the principles of competition and judgement at play in this show. I've heard somewhere that The Big Game was partly meant to explore the way that chance and outside forces play such a large part in our life, and I agree that "winning" isn't always about ability or determination. Life is full of disappointments that are beyond our control. But geez, can't we give the kids a few more years before they have to face that?

I know kids play at competitive games all the time and that losing is a common experience. I suppose it was just the face of that kid I watched lose and walk off the board clearly upset. Maybe I was that kid once, and god forbid that little goober ever ends up anything like me! LOL!


Two-Faced Bastard

The frustration at the heart of Chunky Move's new show is deliberate, provocative and well-intentioned - the audience is split in half, each side watching one side of a curtain through which performers move. One half begins by watching an abstract dance performed by Stephanie Lake, the other witnesses a forum on performance by Brian Lipson, Vincent Crowley, Antony Hamilton, Byron Perry, Lee Searle and Michelle Heaven. Gradually the two worlds overlap as performers move between the spaces, and of course you're constantly aware that you're missing out on half of the activity going on.

There's a much bigger philosophical argument embedded in this structure and it's both intellectually fascinating and experientially frustrating - but at the same time, what you are watching is almost always wonderful in its own right. My side was the more talky side with some absolutely stunning performances from Hamilton especially, but knowing that there is an elsewhere - a place where something better *might* be happening - put me in a thrilling bind. What if *this* is better? What if *that* is? And could I ever know anyway? Great work, great work.


Exercises in Happiness

A simple premise executed well. The two artists of Panther have filled an ARI-style gallery space with a bunch of exercises for attendees to carry out, rating their happiness levels along the way. A spot of gardening, piddling around on an electric guitar, having a conversation over trifle, that kind of thing. It's an easy-breezy affair that I enjoyed thoroughly, and had me thinking in a gentle, distracted way about my moment-by-moment responses to all kinds of experiences - I loved the gardening until I actually began to do it, and worried that I was killing some flowers I was attempting to plant.

My only complaint here (and it's not really a complaint) is that it could have been bigger - there are maybe 20 or so exercises and I spent about an hour and a half there, but I would gladly have spent a whole day in a space the size of the Exhibition Buildings, wandering among hundreds and hundreds of little, everyday activities. So yeah, this is clearly a good piece.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Around the Fringe in 80 Shows (Wrap Up)

It's over! I suck! I didn't even get close to 80 shows! I noticed that my tally in regard to my goal was reasonably close to the Golden Ratio of the ancients however and feel the warm glow of classical approval. It's like Euclid is resting a fuzzy hand on my shoulder and muttering encouraging words through his tzatziki-flecked beard.

"MATHEMATICALLY APPROVED"

The Fringe award winners were a unanimously deserving bunch:

Best Special Event: Fringe Garden

Best Performance: Rawcus Theatre Company and Restless Dance Company for The Heart of Another is a Dark Forest

Best Dance/Movement: Kate Stanley and Fiona Bryant for Max

Best Circus: Strangers in the Light


Best Comedy: Celia Pacquola for Am I Strange

Best Cabaret: Jacob Diefenbach for Jason Diefenbach 'Master of Disguise'

Best Music: Rowan Vince for VIR 2008


Best Visual Arts: Claire Mooney, Mary Newsome, Patrick Pound, Heather Shimmen and Masato Takasaka for Postcards

Best School Holiday Program Award: Curious Legends and Company Gongoma for Mermaids Daughter

Best Venue: Bella Union, Trades Hall

Melbourne International Arts Festival Award: Jodie Ahrens for Deceased Estate

VicHealth Community Cultural Development Award: Fringe Garden

The Melbourne Dramatists Award for New Writing: Alison Mann for Tabula Rasa


The Melbourne Airport Award for Outstanding Newcomer: Felicity Ward's Ugly As A Child Variety Show

The Adelaide Fringe Festival Awards: Elbow Room for There (performance); Ahmarnya Price for Just Me And Yoko Ono (visual arts)

Auspicious Arts Award for Best Emerging Producer: Richard Higgins and Matt Kelly for The List Operators


Gasworks Award: Michelle Slater and Phillip Haddad for Rhythm and Runners

Linden Award for an outstanding visual artist: Antonia Goodfellow for Empyrean

The Falls Festival Award: Brydie Dyson, Set Designer of Darlington Garage Presents

The 2008 Wilin Centre Award for Indigenous Fringe Artist of the Year: Nikki Ashby for Deaf Can Dance

The Circus Oz / ACAPTA Award: Farhad Ahadi (Circus Trick Tease)

The Village Award: Skye Gellmann, Terri Cat Silvertree and Alex Gellmann for Scattered Tacks

Fringe Furniture People’s Choice Award: Yoshio Takagi for Molentje

Fringe Dwellers People’s Choice Award: Circus Trick Tease


And now, dagnabbit if I'm not glad the festival is over and I can get back to a placid, non-festival existence of quiet contemplation and cheese eating.



AWWW CRAP.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Around the Fringe in 80 Shows (9)

SKETCHES OF BLOOD

The old pond
A frog jumps in -
Plop!


CLUB XX

A welcome slice of post-post-feminist comedy that sets its targets on the double standards, stereotyping and embedded expectations still put to Australian women in a period where many still don't want to identify themselves with the F word. The other F - funny - is here in abundance, which is a bonus. The two performers have a real confidence in handling their material, which is mostly sketch- and character-based. I think I would have liked to see a few moments that broke out of this format into a more direct style of address - not a "this is what where doing here" thing but something to frame the overall collection of acts and vary the tone a bit. Some great stuff here in any case.


CIRCUS TRICK TEASE

The most impressive thing about this circus three-hander was the way it looked so easy - it doesn't scream "I'm doing amazing things!" like many circus acts. It just does them. They're still pretty amazing, though. It's a kind-of adults-only affair with lots of hilarious, tongue-in-cheek polysexual perversity thrown in. It's not dirty or obscene, though, just ridiculously sexualised in a silly, free-floating way. The three performers are massively talented; I think they could still use a little more outside direction in order to sharpen their characters and relationships. The acts themselves are top stuff, though.


TWO LITTLE SPIELS

I only caught the second spiel in this double bill from members of the Caravan of Love. Entitled "a preamble", it's a solo from Eva Johansen who, may I say, is a damn fine singer. It's one of those loose, deliberately awkward bits of comic meta-theatre that sees Johansen fussing about, constantly getting distracted, playing out little digressions and so on in the build-up to the actual beginning of the show - which, of course, is where the real performance ends. We've seen this conceit heaps of times but Johansen presents enough solid comedy and theatrical nous to inject a lot of vigour into proceedings. My only real quibble is that the framing device - and Johansen's constant reassurances that "this isn't the show" - are sort of unnecessary. It's clear from the title alone what's going on, and the actual content is enough to hold up the show without making it any more explicit.


DANCE-A-THON 6000

This dance marathon/high school social/variety extravaganza was packed from the get-go, which meant some punters had to queue for a while to get in. It was worth it, though - more than a hundred dancers performed, from a tap troupe of older women to a local ballet outfit from Darebin (I think) to the ironic 80s kitsch of the Real Hot Bitches. Plus punters wore numbers pinned to their clothes which allowed them to be assessed by roaming judges (the ten best had an on-stage dance off near the end) and a good time was had by all. I was especially pleased to see a bona fide spontaneous dance battle suddenly occur next to me, and soon a huge ring had formed as more joined in the fray - breakdancers, circus folk, flouro spandexed RHBs, the Hall & Oates dancer from Dave Quirk's show, and - most mystifying of all - a pair of boys who came out of nowhere and completely cleaned up the competitors. They were maybe 12, 14 at most, and they were matching everyone who stepped up to challenge. I have no idea what the hell these kids were doing there. But good on 'em.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Around the Fringe in 80 Shows (8)

LEAGUE OF SIDESHOW SUPERSTARS IV

This was in-yer-face sideshow stuff that quite a few people had trouble watching - you know, someone staple-gunning flowers to their torso, hanging weights from hooks in their chest, that kind of stuff. The performers all seemed like nice and happy people, though, not hideous monsters. I didn't really pay full attention throughout because I'd only wandered into the show by accident. The crowd who'd turned up on purpose were having a ball, on the other hand.


FELICITY WARD'S UGLY AS A CHILD VARIETY SHOW

I was watching the Sideshow Superstars when I ran into my little sister. While staring at a contortionist popping his arm out of joint for whatever reason, I idly wondered aloud "when does a person realise that they can dislocate their limbs?"

"I don't know," she said. "When does a person realise that they don't like being electrocuted in front of an audience?" Cos that's what had just happened to her. I felt a bit bad for sending her along to Felicity Ward's show then, but I swear I didn't know the act included electrocuting my sister for comic purposes. The show was otherwise very funny, said sis.

I agree. Felicity Ward's great and will go places fast. For the most part the performer, and not the audience, is the target of the comedy - ugly as a child, and poor and picked-on too. There are some hilarious and occasionally sad anecdotes, including a brilliant method of preparing Weet-Bix as devised by her scrimping mum. Ward has a sharp, snappy stage presence and veers off on enjoyable tangents without losing control of her material. There's been a bit of a buzz around her for a little while and if you miss her this time around, she'll probably be everywhere by the time the Comedy Fest rolls out next year.


WHERE THE WILD THINGS WERE

This is a decent number by Harley Breen inspired by the tales of mystery and imagination which inspired him as a child - usually stories of mythical creatures and strange lands. It begins with some lengthy but effective scenes more theatrical than stand-up: a Tom Waits song, a radio-play performed with fellow comic Oliver Clark, a Yeti story told by an old codger. The latter half is more straight, with Breen talking about where his fascination with story-telling comes from, and discussing the fantastic world of his own he invented when he was about 8. It consisted of 30-100 tiny robots only he could see... when he was in the toilet - sitting down, of course, because number ones would mean they could see his bits. His stories sometimes taper off, and the show hasn't really got an ending at all yet, but this is a fun warm-up for what could be a great Comedy Fest show.


MAX

Also ostensibly inspired by the classic "Where the Wild Things Are", but far less obviously. Actually, I'm not sure how the book came into this dance work. I do know that it uses the techniques taught by DEBORAH FRICKIN HAY. If that name means nothing to you, you probably won't get much from this show. If it does - DEBORAH FRICKIN HAY! It's an immensely difficult task to try to do Hay, and I think this short piece (20 mins) succeeds very well. It's challenging and extremely complex, but so is Hay's work. I spoke to her a few weeks ago and there was so much of the conversation that a) had me really excited and b) had me knowing I could never print it anywhere.

For example: "Well, for instance the very basic question that everyone I work with works with is ‘What if now is here?’ So that’s huge. It’s impossible to realise. It’s just a question that’s very exciting to contemplate but impossible to … you can’t answer it, because it’s already gone, but it’s so big that it’s so enjoyable to notice, the potential for it. And it’s such a healthy thing for a performer. What if now is here? Instead of the whole history of performing dance, so much of it is wanting to be some place or having to be in some place or some moment, the sense of aggrandisement and hierarchy in the tradition, but what if now IS here? So it’s sort of an example. And then you have to say what is ‘here’? And what is ‘now’?"

So. Hay isn't easy. And MAX is tough. But fun. And contains some astonishing dancing. And little old ladies tottering around in heels and serving tea. And long moments of stillness. And whole-body choreography. And


PINNED

PINNED is very much a work-in-progress - blurring autobiography with image theatre and live music, it contains some amazing sequences and strong themes that haven't yet gelled into a whole. It follows Fleur Dean's voyage to Seychelles where she met a real zombie, and that in itself is an amazing story. There are other moments of sinister sexual threat, potentially self-destructive foolhardiness, uncanny puppetry. These things don't always work together (or productively in contrast) but after some more development this promises to be a chilling, thoughtful piece.


Beaconsfield: The Musical
This isn't a review - I haven't seen Beaconsfield and doubt I can. Why not? Because it's only on three nights! In a 40-seat venue!

Hang on, is this the same Beaconsfield: the Musical that had all the media (except SBS) in an uproar yesterday and saw online commenters and talk-back radio nags rabbiting on about how disgraceful it was that some Fringey type was making a living from other people's misery? Yes, that's the one! The show with only 120 seats available for its entire run! Do a little math and you can tell that this was never going to be a money-making enterprise.

The focus of the satire is in fact the media circus which emerged around the Beaconsfield mining disaster, not the miners themselves, so it's really really funny that the same media has made a mountain out of this little molehill. Today Tonight wanted an interview, as did media from as far afield as Western Australia and New Zealand.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating. The Herald-Sun, of all places, today gave the show a near-rave review, stating that it was totally respectful to all involved, and even Richard Carleton would have laughed at the song based around his death.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Around the Fringe in 80 Shows (7)

THERE

I went in knowing nothing about this show and I hope you do too – it’s my next MUST-SEE shout out and it’s so surprising and invigorating that the only response is involuntary laughter, not because what you’re seeing is funny (although it frequently is) but because it’s so damn ingenious, intelligent and courageous. It’s (sort of) an ontological comedy about encounters with the worlds beyond the frame of our horizon – beginning very small, each sequence involves a sudden new attainment of consciousness in some sense which has the effect of a rapid zoom out… imagine staring at a small, lonely figure of rich detail, then realising it is part of a fascinating painted scene, then discovering the scene is just one part of a complex, Bosch-like painting, then seeing the painting amidst an entire gallery of works, then situating the gallery in a teeming city, then pulling back to see the planet upon which the city perches… you get the idea. This is an incredibly rewarding work. And like I said, it’s very, very funny.

NOTHING EXTRAORDINARY EVER HAPPENS IN TOOWOOMBA. (EVER).

There were a few tears in the audience after this gorgeous little solo performance ended. It’s hard not to like unless you’re terribly jaded and cynical. It’s a monologue by Sarah Collins which mythologises her hometown of Toowoomba in a recognisable way – the program notes name-check Muriel’s Wedding and Napoleon Dynamite but it’s not hard to spot the references. It follows a young boy named Kevin-John Vickery, whose main offence in life is ordinariness. He’s a typical comic outsider you’re supposed to empathise with and Collins does a great job building up the various characters who populate his world, from the remedial class teacher who hates her charges while feeling guilty about this resentment to K-J’s mother, perpetually shocked by her own very existence. It’s a very generous work with a beautiful script, though a few of the more obvious moments of whimsy could have been restrained a little. Certainly a very promising, feel-good production that should put Collins on the radar.

WILDE

The problem in “adapting” Oscar Wilde’s written works is that few performers can outdo the strengths of his texts themselves – this is a considered, creative rendition of three of Wilde’s short stories that doesn’t quite meet its goals, but is worth a look for the more literary types amongst you (I’m sure there are a few). The three performers have plenty going for them and handle the tales deftly and this is a heavily directed piece that remixes the original texts with a narrative that sees pivotal objects from each waiting at a train station for their moment of departure. The problem is that the stories of each, when they eventually appear, are just great – and you just want to get to them during the creative faffing around that borders each piece. Not that these moments aren’t well rendered; it’s just that the stories themselves overshadow the new material. Still, this is a strong work with a compelling cast that is probably worth catching by serious theatre folk.

TRUMAN JOSEPH’S NATURE BOX

This free-ish 10 minute series of lectures is one of those nifty Fringe breaks – each night sees a different topic incompetently handled by a comedian clearly unable to serve up much wisdom in his particular area of expertise, and the results are simple but enjoyable comedy. The lecture I attended – entitled “Sex and the Single Simian” was gentle fun, and the whole point of the exercise is to laugh at the ineptness of the speaker rather than anything else. If you’re at the Fringe Hub you can catch a performance between shows for a gold-coin donation, and at that price you certainly won’t be disappointed.

PHANTASMAGORIA

This movement piece is pretty gross. It’s like dance choreographed by David Cronenberg. There’s a dude up the back wailing on his axe like Ry Cooder while the performer manipulates his body into unimaginable shapes, isolating twitching muscle-groups in the hazy glow of purple and orange spotlights and causing his body to ripple in ways that defy comprehension. He’s bald, ripped and most hairless, and as he skitters around covered in sweat and dripping spit and snot he conjures up the image of a cave-dwelling organism that has never seen sunlight. It’s very powerful, in a confronting way, but the lack of levity or context makes for a hard viewing experience. It’s a lot like Angus Cerini’s work without the sense of humour or self-awareness – a post-human nightmare that’s hard to forget, but equally hard to embrace.

AN ACTOR PREPARES

There are moments of brilliant imagery in this piece which don’t add up to a satisfying whole – blending music and song with a monologue concerning an artist-turned-suicide-bomber, writer/performer James Adler never really produces the insight needed to have his audience understanding the motivations of an actor who ends up killing his onlookers as a political protest. The work leaps across genres, from cabaret to ridiculous pirate tale to sincere explication, but the result is muddled by this pastiche approach. It’s not a bad work by any means, but it’s still a process rather than a finished product.

SET LIST

The Set List crew are a musical impro act who produce their material from audience suggestions – each performance takes on a different genre of music to both satirise and pay homage to the form. My luck meant I turned up to the day of JAZZ! And as anyone knows, me and JAZZ! aren’t on speaking terms. Impro is a tough game, and I’ve always felt impro in both comedy and jazz is a bit of a macho game: “I can make magic happen on the spot! Just watch me! I do this ALL THE TIME!” Luckily the show turned out to be the manageable trad jazz I can handle and some decent blues and gospel numbers. It’s not the best impro I’ve seen, but at 4.30 on a Saturday this is a pleasing way to pass an hour. The audience were certainly willing to throw out suggestions, and I’d easily consider heading along to the next (non-JAZZ!) outing.

SHOWS YOU’VE MISSED

SAMMY J'S 50 YEAR SHOW
I’ll be back in 5 years, without a doubt. A charming, ambitious concept that turned out better than I’d expected.

KILL THE ENGINE
Great little dance piece – ten minutes long – from a performer with an endearing shyness who nevertheless had the guts to create a solo dance for the Fringe. Hard not to like.

THE LONELY INSTRUMENT
CWA meets Angela Carter. Interesting, but needs further work. Great sound design and strong performances, but the scope of the piece hasn’t been fully realised yet.

NZAMBI NZAMBI
Ha ha ha. Stupid, stupid zombie short from Tasmania that had plenty of good-bad moments. Doesn’t take itself at all seriously, and ends up with plenty of laughs as a result.

DEAF CAN DANCE – THE SOUNDS OF SILENCE
A worthy ambition that hasn’t found its feet so far – the company will be worth watching as it develops the distinctive choreographic style hinted at here.

WEB
Dance piece employing performers with and without disabilities – slow beginning, but at least a handful of truly powerful moments. Not at the Back to Back/Rawcus level at all, but as this company develops there should be some excellent work appearing.

FRINGE GARDEN
Who would have thought I’d spend at least an hour hanging with Vietnamese gardeners from a commission flat in Richmond? Not me. This was awesome fun, though, and will hopefully return next year.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Around the Fringe in 80 Shows (6)


I tried to catch Love Letter at Bar Open last night but there were timetabling issues so I had to scoot before it began. It looked promising. Also, a bee had gotten into the upstairs space and one of the performers was allergic to bee stings so a helpful bartender had nicked off to get some insect repellent and flyspray and stuff, which was very considerate. I'll try to see the show later on.

THE LIST OPERATORS

These two guys are already firmly on the "to watch" lists and tear through an excellent hour of witty comedy here. Richard Higgins and Matt Kelly play the eponymous fellows who make lists of things. Pretty simple premise done very well - think "Countries it is ok to be racist about" or "10 Alternative Ways to Start the Show". The list thing is a nice hook that sometimes disappears from view before swimming back into sight unexpectedly, and both guys have great comic timing as well as an obvious understanding of the character dynamics of two-man comedy, Kelly playing the loveable idiot to Higgins' clever bastard. Definitely recommended.

THE LAST BUCKET OF WATER

During the curtain call for this show, Adam McKenzie called out "Go see lots of Fringe! It's an amazing year!" That was pretty heart-warming, hearing performers support others in a general "see everything!" way. This is a fun little number, too - the three comics (McKenzie, Robby Lloyd and Tegan Higginbotham) play themselves in charge of the last bucket of water left in an unspecified future (muddled even more when they keep playing on the fact that they're actually just doing a Fringe show in the North Melbourne Town Hall). It all starts out in a pretty nerdalicious way, with video sequences and gags that require some knowledge of Lost to understand, but the performers are at their best when they go off-script - which is pretty often. McKenzie especially shines in this, and with two relative "straight men" to play off he serves up some hefty belly laughs. The overall concept isn't stunning, but this is a clear crowd-pleaser from beginning to end.

HAMMER-PANTS-A-PALOOZA

I had to check this out for the name alone and the brief while I was there was worth it. It was a vaguely hip-hoppy night of comedy and dancing and stuff at the Fringe Club, and I caught Nazeem Hussain from Fear of a Brown Planet (I think he was MCing the night) as well as Julz & Dragonfly (Elbow Room) and the krumping guys from Urban AfterShock (I think they're called DC Crew, but I could be wrong). I was especially impressed to see that this last group were proper krumpers - between choreographed ensemble bits to the likes of the Jackson 5 and Grease, they pulled out freestyle solo routines that were completely different to the performances I saw at Urban AfterShock. I wish I could have stuck around longer, but hey. I'm on a schedule.

Meanwhile, with a big night ahead, here's a bit of a musical interlude as we hit mid-Fringe. It's a piece of Italo Disco trash that made me feel like I should be strapped to my chair with my eyes forced open a la Clockwork Orange. Callous murder? Check. Sudden Fat Baby? Inexplicable Tron-Skull? Migraine-Inducing Montages Featuring Spaghetti and The Pope? Triple check. It has to be seen to be believed and don't skip through it. Den Harrow, whoever you are, I salute you with a trembling, post-traumatic paw.


Thursday, October 02, 2008

Around the Fringe in 80 Shows (5)

SCATTERED TACKS

The three performers here are circus-trained but to call this a circus show would be an injustice. It’s performance art of the most compelling sort and when twenty minutes in I uncrossed my legs the relatively loud rustle produced made me realise that nobody in the audience had so much as taken a breath until now. My show-buddy’s watch was audible throughout the show.

This is one of those reinventing-the-genre pieces that are hardly ever witnessed, and I can’t commend it highly enough. Performed in almost total darkness for the most part – an eye-opening bit of house-lights-up aside – it’s simply stunning. I’d heard high praise about the show before I attended, including an overheard conversation on Brunswick St today in which a punter raved about the show to two friends – and the reports proved worthy. If any show this Fringe is going to stop your heart, this is it. I mean that in a “seek medical advice if symptoms persist” way.

MYSTERIES OF THE CONVENT 08

‘Site-specific’ is an over-used term these days – any show is site-specific, in a way. This production shows how it’s done. A subtle narrative is developed during a tour of the Abbotsford Convent in which performance, puppetry, live music and history lessons are interwoven to produce a tapestry that leaves its audience marvelling. It’s a slow-build, but worth it, and the performances are top-notch. As the audience is guided through a vast, historically laden complex, attention is commanded in a deft way that never seems heavy-handed. It’s a melancholy refrain that haunts the mind for some time.

THE TALKING VAGINA

This is a proudly stupid show that puts laughs well ahead of anything else, and mostly delivers on that front. It follows a woman with a talking vagina and wanders off into all sorts of unexpected territory. It’s one of those shows where you’re not sure if you’re laughing with or at the proceedings, but there’s a strong sense that it’s revelling in its own wrongness. Given a week it should mature into the kind of sharp, confident piece it promises to be – one for the cool kids who enjoy not knowing if they’re supposed to be laughing or not. Not so much for those who want their responses prompted by the production itself. Because lord knows, it’s a freaking weird piece of theatre.

LAST TUESDAY SOCIETY



BLINKERS

Here’s an unexpectedly sweet Kiwi dramedy that practically screams “QUIRKY” like a late-night ad for an Exhibition Centre run-out sale on quirkiness. The two-hander revolves around the meeting of two neighbours – as opposite a pair as you could imagine. Amy seems to have been raised by alcoholic wolves, nettle-haired and wild-eyed and able to speak only in whisky-fuelled rockstar rantings. Downstairs, pole-arsed Monty is a socks-and-sandals kind of fella maintaining an unhealthy obsession with horses. Their eventual meeting is too slow coming, but ends up more than the painfully whimsical steeplechase fall I’d expected, and the final moments of this show really got me, especially a beautifully fragile song that comes from nowhere. The two performers are clearly well-trained and while it’s not thigh-slapping stuff, it’s a gently affecting piece that deserves kudos.

FRINGE TRIVIA

Hmmm. I don’t know if this counts as a ‘show’ – I don’t even know if there’s an official name for this event but I ended up there and had a cracking good time. For the past six years Fringe has hosted a trivia night where arts-related organisations square up a table of their finest brains to see who has the real chops in the smarts department. That’s a ridiculous sentence and may help explain why we ended up around the middle of the leaderboard. Still, MIAF came last for the first time ever. Host Alan Lovett was brilliant, and the guest for his music round was Andrew McLelland in top form doing beatbox/a cappella renditions of vaguely familiar tunes. The Comedy Festival team won by a mile, which didn’t surprise me, and RRR came in an honourable second. Good times, good times.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Around the Fringe in 80 Shows (4)

WAR LOUNGE

This is my first MUST-SEE Fringe recommendation for anyone serious about theatre, performance or art in Melbourne. It’s an astonishingly accomplished and mature collaboration that can’t really be categorised, and any description would just be a spoiler. It’s also one of those rare moments where I wondered “how do I not know of these people already?” Oh well, you’ll be hearing from them in the future.


WILL WORK FOR FOOD/LET'S TALK TO THE SPIRITS YES NO MAYBE PERHAPS WHY NOT?

Last time I laced up the boots for a round in the ring with Nick Sun, he rope-a-doped me with a solid hour of anti-comedy in which many chairs were thrown in my general direction. I mean that literally: he was throwing chairs. Sun hit the big-time when he was just a teen, and after a couple of years of being feted as the Best Comedy Around he seemed to turn on the hand that fed him and reject the whole guy-telling-jokes-for-money thing by delivering increasingly challenging shows. By "challenging" I mean Sun hidden behind a couch apologising into a microphone for the debacle that was his show. For an hour.

Well bless my nippers, bless them all day long.

The Sun has risen once again. This new show is just as chaotic and anarchic as his last outing, but rather than being anti-everything it seems to create a strange sense of community in its audience. I say community, you might say cult. Either way, it's a weirdly positive experience that even Sun himself seemed surprised by on opening night.

It's still a dark show, but only in the literal sense. Sun turned the lights so low that the room was barely visible. The premise is simple: comedy doesn't pay, so he's doing a show based on the barter system. Bring food, clothes, whatever to pay for your ticket. Most importantly, feel free to offer a couch for Sun to sleep on for the night - he mentioned that he wanted to keep a log of the various strangers that paid for the show with basic lodgings, but I don't know if Melbourne audiences are yet ready to give a guy a room in exchange for making them laugh.

I thought most audience members would bring booze or crap food and that Sun might die from malnutrition, so I ended up offering some Mega B Vitamins I picked up on the way to the show. How this led to a moment in which three strangers on all fours ate vitamins from a cushion in the centre of the darkened room while Sun channelled the spirit of Megabe (brother of Mugabe) over an ambient soundtrack is a bit beyond me. The audience also shared a few bottles of wine people had brung along, some chocolate, and Sun read a bit from a book he was given. A heaps good show.


DAVID QUIRK – KATHLEEN GRACE

I first saw this show at this year’s Comedy Fest and was more than happy to check it out again. It’s a solid hour of exceedingly dark stand-up delivered by a genuinely likeable guy who isn’t out to offend, just really wants to think hard about some very taboo topics. It’ll likely shock, but in a positive way, and there’s a brilliant piece of Hall & Oates used to turn the mood around at one particular point – in fact, this bit is very clever manipulation of his audience, as is the final moment of the show. Quirk comes across as loose and spontaneous in his delivery, but I’m beginning to realise that he’s very much in control of his material and the way his audience respond to it.

SEAMSTRESS

This is a lovely little series of five solo dance pieces responding to costume and clothing. It’s held in the Thread Den in North Melbourne, an indie boutique which holds sewing classes and showcases unknown fashioneers, which makes it the perfect spot for a show like this. It’s quirky, funny, sometimes a bit chilling but mostly enjoyable. There’s a real freshness to the performers and the pieces don’t outstay their welcome. Given the coolness of the whole project and the tiny space, though, it was bound to be a sellout from the outset.

URBAN AFTERSHOCK PROJECT

This was a one-off dance/music extravaganza featuring about 60 performers wowing a very appreciative audience. I wish the audience had been bigger, but they were certainly vocal in their enjoyment. In fact I think everyone left this show with a massive grin on their dial. Hard not to enjoy a dance battle between traditional Ethiopian dancers and self-choreographed krumping kids, or a team of teens pulling off slightly awkward RnB routines with no hint of self-consciousness. I think the event was mostly organised by Azmarino from Melbourne band Diafrix, and he deserves a massive amount of respect for getting it off the ground.

FULL TILT: THE TALK SHOW

Azmarino was also one of the guests at this one-off – a panel discussion about the state of Australian hip-hop mixed in with performances from MCs, a b-boy and a DJ. The speakers came from all kinds of backgrounds and the one thing uniting them was an intense passion about the topics discussed, from hip-hop and indigenous Australians to the poor media coverage of the scene’s diversity. DJ Peril, who has been in the business for 25 years, brought up the way commercial radio restricts playlists to only two or three labels, and Azmarino made a compelling case about the latent racism involved in newspaper reportage on hip-hop in Australia. The overall consensus seemed to be that scattered communities need to work together to raise the genre’s profile, rather than treating each other as competition, and Peril’s call for a return to the days when hip-hop was a big party – rather than a business – seemed to sum it up pretty well.