Saturday, October 3, 2009

Reviews: Asleep in a Secret; Donna and Damo; A Little Piece


By Skye Gellman.

I don’t think that I can write succinctly about Skye Gellman’s work in a short review. It would take at least 1000 words to really begin to unpack what I think about it, and I also think that a lot of what it makes me think isn’t necessarily the result of what he’s consciously intending when he creates his stuff. But that doesn’t mean it’s not there.

Most of all it puts me into a Buddhist state of mind (or no mind, actually). It’s about absence, the impossibility of holding onto the moment, as well as the illusory nature of all appearances. It’s a bit like a koan, wherein the contemplation of a question is more important than its answer.

Gellman comes from a circus background but he’s absolutely at the very razor’s edge of a particular movement towards a new kind of circus. Rather than the successful execution ‘trick’ being the point, his work is more about the things that surround the trick: the preparation, the failure, the meaninglessness of “tricks” themselves, and most of all about silence. A lot of Asleep in a Secret occurs in darkness or half-light; Gellman’s eyes are closed during most of his routines (which you don’t think of, but imagine how hard it must be to do a dozen consecutive backflips with your eyes shut).

At later points in the show he seems dangerously out of control. You
watch as his body sustains some very obvious punishment, and when he attempts to balance on a block of wood the room is filled with a palpable tension, even fear, emanating from the audience. Just a few feet away and barefoot, you can see how it’s going to feel if the block topples and his toes are caught beneath. But, as I realised afterwards, it’s far less terrifying when you watch someone doing a handstand atop a two-storey high pile of chairs in another Fringe show. Gellman’s skill in is showing just how hard even the most typical of circus acts actually are, and making you feel that danger. Even if he’s just standing on a block a foot off the ground.

At the start of the year, Gellman wrote on his blog: "
The world is overwhelming and confusing sometimes. My friends and I create very topical and good work. There is nothing the world can do to destroy us, because we destroy ourselves everyday. I like circus because it cannot be defined. People think they know what circus is, but they don’t. It’s not swinging a trapeze or doing a back flip, or juggling. It’s not big-tops, traveling europe or street theatre in a tree. Circus is nothing. It’s undefinable. It’s freedom so fuck you all."

Asleep in a Secret is less satisfying than last year’s Scattered Tacks because it seems less confronting and original, extending that show’s ideas rather than taking off in a different direction. But I think this new work is actually more complex and provocative, even if there seems to be less going on. There’s less “circus,” sure, but if that’s all you’re looking for then you’re looking in the wrong place. I think Gellman would do well exchanging ideas with people in other fields who are working with the same concepts he’s introduced to the world of circus; I can only imagine what would result if he found himself in the same room as Deborah Hay or Jerome Bel or Ariane Mnouchkine or Tim Etchells.

Until October 10, upstairs at Errol’s Café, North Melbourne.


By Sarah Collins and Justin Kennedy.

Sarah Collins first came to my attention at last year’s Fringe with her debut show, Nothing Ever Happens in Toowoomba, Ever. I thought it was an awkward and ungainly name for a show but went along for some reason and was utterly charmed. It was sweet and hilarious and perfectly pitched. (I later heard that Collins was surprised when people found it so funny since she hadn’t realised she’d written a comedy until she saw the audience reaction).

Donna and Damo is a pretty dull name for a show, too. But again, it’s a little winner. This time she’s teamed up with Justin Kennedy who’s better known as a stand-up (by me at least). The two play out a very understated love story set in rural Victoria. Donna works in a call centre selling glamour photography sessions to women with image issues, and has convinced herself she’s in love with the moron film blogger she calls her boyfriend. Damo is a slightly OCD young man whose gran has recently passed away, leaving him without an anchor on life.

If it all sounds quirky and saccharine and feel-good, it is. But it’s also very cleverly written and staged, with some of the best use of slide-projector live animation I’ve seen. I started out a bit distanced from the show but couldn’t help being drawn in as it progressed, and I think most audiences who haven’t got had their faces surgically altered into a permanent snarl will get a heart-warming kick from this one.

Until Oct 10 at the Lithuanian Club.


By Tipsy Teacup Productions.

Little’s the word – this thing is tiiiny. Four audience members cram into a miniature house filled with hidden nooks and surprises for a ten-minute story about a toy hedgehog looking for his place in a world of dancing kitchen utensils and lovelorn keys. It’s even cuter than Donna and Damo but that’s actually the problem: the narration is delivered in the kind of sing-song baby-talk that seems either horribly infantilising for its audience, overly nostalgic for an age when Playschool felt like Masterpiece Theatre or just plain indicative of some kind of developmental problems. The story’s ok, the design and performance are wonderful, so why undercut it all by rendering the fairytale in the same language you’d use to convince an infant to eat their pea and pear mush? Perhaps I am simply out of touch with my inner toddler.

Ends tomorrow at the Lithuanian Club.

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