Friday, October 9, 2009

Reviews: en route; The Hat Box; Dance Miniature


By Bettybooke

Cities are in some ways about isolation. When you walk down a Melbourne street you can be reasonably confident that, most of the time, people will leave you alone. If someone comes begging or fundraising it can feel as if they’re breaking that unspoken contract and it can lead to discomfort; a tourist asking for directions is less confronting, I suppose because there’s
an implicit knowledge that this interruption of your privacy won’t last longer than necessary. But this urban spaceman thing goes two ways – we shut down our perception of the countless faces and movements and surfaces around us. If only just to survive or, hell, get where we’re going.

en route gently strips away those blinders in a way that is nothing less than revelatory. It’s a solo walk through the hidden spaces of Melbourne, crossing the entire city and taking you to places you didn’t know existed. You walk on your own, guided by text messages, directions piped through an iPod, and markers covertly etched into the spaces of the streets themselves. The listening device also provides musical accompaniment which can drastically alter your awareness of the environment you pass through, and as the journey continues becomes both more dreamlike and more eye-opening.

(If you’ve got a ticket to this work - and it is completely sold out - then you proba
bly shouldn’t read any further yet.)

There are moments of en route that made me feel as if I’d slipped through some invisible membrane into a whole new city from the one I grew up in. It began subtly, simply wandering down graffiti-strewn alleyways that were completely deserted in the middle of the day. I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to be seeing – was that tiny silver balloon bobbing along the ground ahead of me part of the art? Or just the kind of everyday trace I’d normally overlook? The words chalked on walls; the men sitting idly in a motorcycle repair shop; the painted footsteps climbing from the pavement up a wall. It had to begin this way, so that I would become more attuned to my surroundings without looking for anything in particular, for any goal that guide my attention.

This was just the beginning, though. Later in this long voyage I would find myself sprinting down the middle of a brightly sunlit Bourke St Mall holding hands with a stranger and scattering pigeons for its length. I walked alone down another alleyway and was invited to write a secret thought on its walls, and suddenly saw the dozens, maybe even hundreds of similar thoughts that other participants had already written there, a silent lane filled with voices. And in the piece’s simplest but most beautiful moment I sat in a cafĂ© window and saw – really saw – the faces that the people around me wear.
en route’s creators bringing in snippets of philosophy and poetry and politics (Merleau-Ponty, Rilke, Tim Flannery) along with Melbourne musicians and the unpredictable, constant flow of real people throughout the metropolis. You’re both alone and inseparable from the
people around, watched somehow by whoever is sending those SMSes and occasionally stared at by other city-goers. But even for someone like me, who doesn’t really dig that kind of attention, it’s ok, because you’re seeing them with new eyes yourself.

Ends Sunday. Everywhere.


By Family of Strangers

This new company first hit my radar with Sunny Side Up, a nice little show I saw earlier this year. It wasn’t a big ground-breaking work but it was quietly and effectively done and I liked it. This new piece is much bigger, far more ambitious, and mostly successful. I’m willing to suggest that Family of Strangers will be the next Stuck Pigs Squealing in about four or five years – not there yet, but if they continue this trajectory they’ll be doing some fascinatingly original work in the not too distant future.
What’s most immediately impressive is the interest in design and costuming, which are truly beautiful here. It’s reminiscent of the junkyard theatre aesthetic but (at least initially) is employed to create something gorgeous to look at rather than just consciously ramshackle.

The plot, too, is adventurous: it starts out simply enough as two people attempt to sail across the ocean to find the missing father of one. By the time you get a handle on what’s going on, however, it begins to tear apart its own premise and reverse your expectations. It’s ve
ry simply to Yuri Wells in this way, but with a different emphasis due to the presence of two performers onstage rather than just one. The play’s darkest themes emerge right in the middle of the piece, as the stage curtains are drawn and a performer steps forward to directly address the audience and wipe away the veneer of cute whimsy which has so far appeared to be the play’s focus.

A live band provides superb accompaniment; the two actors sometimes don’t hit their stride but at other times are very effective. Definitely recommended.

Ends tomorrow at St Martins.


Conceived by Shian Law/Dance Miniature artists

It’s difficult to summarise this collection of short works from emerging dancers. Some work very well, some don’t really work at all. It’s split into two different programs (Dance Miniature 1 and Dance Miniature 2) and I think the former works a lot better than the latter, but I was stuck behind someone with a large head for the second and missed a lot of what was going on so I can’t really review it objectively.

As a collaborative concept, though, I’d like to see this become a regular part of the Fringe fest. Even though there’s a strong independent dance community in Melbourne and a lot of opportunities for workshops and training and meeting others, it’s not nearly enough and seeing young dancers get together and launch something on their own steam is hugely encouraging. More of that, then, ta very much.

Ends tomorrow. The Warehouse, North Melbourne Town Hall.

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