By Erna Omarsdottir & Damien Jalet/Chunky Move
Yesterday’s Age review of Black Marrow suggested that it might be “the most disappointing offering” in this year’s MIAF. I would never put it that way, but after looking at the statement from a few angles I have to say that it is indeed a true and correct one. Here’s why I think so:
The reviewer (Jordan Beth Vincent) doesn’t call Black Marrow the worst thing in the festival. She doesn’t call the piece ‘bad’. She calls it ‘disappointing’. This is less of a straight statement of quality and more of a relative statement about the gap between expectation and result.
The ‘most’ means that that gap was wider than in any other experience at the festival. It stands to reason, then, that a show could be much ‘worse’ than Black Marrow but not be the most disappointing. That’s possible.
And then there’s the question: disappointing for whom? For JBV, obviously. So in that regard it’s a true thing to say. I don’t know what her expectations were, but I’d guess they were pretty high.
And I agree. I was expecting (and hoping) to get a lot more out of the show than I did. I’m not sure if it was the most disappointing for me (tug-of-war with When the Rain Stops Falling, there). But for the sake of argument, let’s say that it was.
So for two people it was the most disappointing thing in the festival (and another caveat: that we’ve seen. I don’t think it’s possible to see everything in the festival. I might be wrong, but even so, I doubt anyone has seen every single thing).
This is why it’s a true statement. It’s true that for some viewers with particular expectations, Black Marrow was the most disappointing thing (that they’ve seen) in the festival.
What do we do with this fact? Beats the marrow out of me.
Because on opening night there were a lot of people who loved the show. I spoke to a few of them and they very openly enjoyed it and thought it was right on the money. Some others, not so much. So it’s also objectively true to say that Black Marrow is not the most disappointing show in the festival.
Now, what I’m doing here is the figurative equivalent of a blindfolded child bashing the piñata of art with the gnarled baton of relativism and expecting the sweet candy of understanding to shower upon us all. The encouraging hoots of older relatives echo in my ears but do not help me find my invisible target, and when I finally give up after hours of wild swinging and remove the ratty eyemask of subjectivity, I notice that I am alone and the sun has long since set and the folding tables and chairs and, indeed, the piñata itself have been cleared away for some time, so that I am left standing in the dusty moonlit courtyard holding my dumb stick of relativity which, it turns out, had been cleverly swapped for a mouldy, crumbling baguette earlier in the day by some cheeky cousin.
So let me holster my metaphors and get back to the show.
Black Marrow isn’t much like Chunky Move’s stuff. I’m guessing that the two guest choreographers (one from Iceland, one from Belgium) were given pretty free rein. There’s less integration of cutting-edge technology, less concern with using dance to exploring contemporary social life, and very a different style of physicality. It’s almost dance theatre in some respects, and the emphasis is more on visually striking set pieces than choreography per se.
It starts out well: a heap of oozing black substances shifting around the stage, both primordial and post-civilisation. Black detritus, occasionally suggesting living (though non-human) black figures somewhere inside. A spiny, difficult to discern black creature is occasionally glimpsed somewhere in the waves of black effluent. Beneath an expanse of glittery black fabric amorphous somethings rise up and disappear or merge to form single beings before disappearing into the black fluid. If you can’t tell yet, there’s a whole lot of black. In fact there’s nothing but black.
This sequence is probably the most effective in the show, even if you don’t see a single dancer directly. From here a pretty broad and barely related range of scenes play out, including an extended bit in which the dancers become an interlinked, dehumanised machine to the tune of an unrelenting industrial beat; an uncontrolled bit of lounge-lizard style ad-libbing from a Portuguese man in a nifty grey suit; a bewildering piece concerning the four horsemen of the Apocalypse that doesn’t really go anywhere; and a frankly horrible scene in which a man travels into a woman’s womb to retrieve a very special but ultimately silly piece of horrid symbolism.
I’m finding it harder to write about this show the more I think about it. I could elucidate the reasons why I didn’t think it worked on so many levels, but I’m simultaneously aware of why it did work for others. I’ll put it this way: it’s a big, ambitious, deeply problematic piece of performance that has divided people, and that’s normally recommendation enough for me to go out and buy a ticket (I do actually buy a lot of tickets to shows, which surprises some people).
To return to the solipsistic beginnings of this review: it was hugely disappointing, for me (like this review). But if I met the me who hadn’t seen it, would I recommend that I do so? Probably. Just so’s the other me could make up his own mind.
At the Merlyn, Malthouse. Ends tonight.
By Peeping Tom
This one is great. Probably my favourite show in the fest. Definitely the best show featuring incontinence that I’ve seen this year. I did have high expectations, again, but they were mostly met. In fact it really was the show that I was expecting to see. Is that a good thing? I’d watched the YouTube clip below and was really excited about the choreography.
This is dance theatre proper, proudly announcing itself as such. It has a narrative of sorts, and characters, but progresses more through movement than storytelling. The characters don’t speak much, and it’s not a literal (or literary) piece. But you get a good hang on who everybody is and where things go.
It centres on an old man and his family (adult children, mostly). It’s pretty much all about these family dynamics and how the process of aging alters them. There are some beautiful sequences which linger in the memory. Ah, I won’t go on as it a show of very pleasant surprises, so if you have a ticket to tonight’s final showing then good on ya.
If not, call the number below and have yourself a grand ol’ evening too.
At the Playhouse, Arts Centre. Ends tonight.