Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Reviews: Next Wave Festival

Dudes, I'm really sorry I didn't write about the Next Wave festival here. I was really busy, for real. Along with seeing Next Wave stuff almost every night I was cramming in Emerging Writers Fest events as well as normal, non-festival shows and keeping down a regular job. I even managed to squeeze in a film! A film! Films are a luxury I just don't get! It's like saying I found time to go to a four-hour, three-course dinner and show at a theatre restaurant! Which I also did! Twice!

And now the festival is over; but seeing as I've found myself with about three minutes to kill I'm going to post some notes on some highlights, just for posterity or some such.


And it was fun. What fun. One guy running 42 kms on a treadmill in the city square surrounded by a large lighting rig, massive LED screen blazing, booming DJ-fuelled soundtrack, silky-voiced DJ and hundreds of performers ranging from dancers to cheerleaders to athletes. You could hear it from blocks away. But what made this event so curiously subversive was the lack of cues that clued us in that it was Art. Countless passersby wondered what they were watching – a charity event? A corporate stunt? A sporting spectacle? It was all of these things, kind of, or parodies of each. It definitely involved the city in a truly remarkable way, and as the sun set and the runner entered the final leg of the race the atmosphere was electric among onlookers still none the wiser as to why they were even there. A gold medal affair.


I would venture to say that any intelligent discussion of this work will be drowned out by most of Melbourne screaming "DOGGIES! DOGGIES! CUTE LITTLE SAUSAGE DOGGIES!!!" Which is what you get, really. There's more to it on a conceptual level but let's face it. You come for the dogs. You stay for the dogs.

My biggest concern was that beyond the cuteness was a bunch of animals who weren't particularly enjoying their experience of art, but when I visited last weekend those fears were mostly allayed. Behind the structure are a lot of people patting the dogs and checking that they're ok and I didn't notice any distressed weiners. There is a broader issue surrounding the use of animals for entertainment that I'm very interested in, but as I say, that debate is hard to mount in the face of “DOOOOOOGGIES!!!”


Sit in a cardboard box in a darkened tent, listen to a massive live band, watch obscured performers do creepy things in the shadows and projected animation play out on the walls. I didn't connect with this show that much but I know people who were wiping away tears. I guess it's that kind of piece: everything that takes place seems there purely because it's beautiful to someone or provokes some kind of affective response – this is art that appeals to the senses rather than the cognitive mind. So, for me the experience didn't push the right buttons, even though I did spend a lot of my youth sitting in cardboard boxes. I'd certainly recommend it to others, though.


I started the day off by dropping an empty coffee mug on my foot, which really hurt (and had the same waking effect I'd been looking for in the coffee). When I ended my day by watching thousands and thousands of objects raining down from a great height, it felt appropriate. I mean 'feel' in a thick sense: this performance engaged me on a level that was neither rational nor emotional but was based on physical memory – the embodied recollections of physical pain which we all have. Of course, since memories are unique to individuals, each viewer is going to experience this show differently.

I heard that it's unlikely And Then Something Fell on my Head will get a remount as it's pretty costly. I hope that's not the case, as it was absolutely my Next Wave festival highlight and I'd love to see it again. I know a lot of other people share the sentiment; it's also why I'm not giving away the specifics of the show which are all the more effective when unexpected. If you do get a chance to catch it one day, my advice would be to drop everything.


This is the other show everyone spoke about as their favourite. It's harder to explain why. It's a high concept dance solo that really doesn't sound like much: the performer spends 50 minutes moving incrementally, almost invisibly, to a fantastic repetitive soundtrack. It's like disco butoh in a gold wash. That's about the best I can describe it.


There's been one moment in Zoe Coombs-Marr's life so perfect that everything else that follows will always be compared to it and fall short: the day in Year 7 when she got to perform the entire flute solo from West Side Story on her own. It doesn't sound that special, but from it she's developed an entire show based on the unrealistic expectations a childhood memory can establish and the disappointment that can result. Well, the entire show isn't really based on the incident – it brings in all kinds of stuff from her youth to have shaped the person she is – but it seems the strongest thread to run throughout the piece.

If there's a problem with this mostly entertaining number its that these things don't always seem to hang together that well. Coombs-Marr is a sharp comic and never lets things get dull or didactic, but structurally this feels like two or three shows jammed into one. Which is fine. It's still the funniest Next Wave show I saw this year and the raw material is more thought-provoking than much of what I've seen, even if it isn't always fashioned into the needle-sharp thing this show could possibly be.


Fiona Bryant and Kate Stanley make some of the most exciting new dance in Melbourne. I caught their short piece MAX a while back after hearing about Bryant's work with Deborah Hay. It was, for me, a more concise illustration of Hay's philosophy than the actual Deborah Hay show I saw around the same time at MIAF.

JOY sees the two extending their collaboration and expanding their scope. It's less abstracted and takes as the subject of its investigation something that doesn't get a lot of play: the Aging Woman. It consists of sequences that gently draw out and amplify recognisable images and movements, from the clomping of sensible shoes to the angry, inarticulate rage of the mind that must witness its own decay. The title's apt, however, as this is a work that hunts out the fragile joy of our twilight years without becoming overly sentimental towards the elderly. Exhilarating stuff.

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