The Brag

Fresh Theatre/Performance Reviews

In Arts, Brag 326 (August 24), Performance/Dance, Theatre Reviews on August 25, 2009 at 5:56 pm

Arts Feature_Once and For All
Wharf 2 | Sydney Theatre Company
Once and For All We’re Gonna Tell You Who We Are So Shut Up And Listen
Reviewed August 14, 2009

I think reading a review of this show before you see it is counterproductive, so if you haven’t seen it, and you think you might want to (go on! Do it!) then stop reading!

Once And For All is brought to us by the Ontroerend Goed (translated as Feels Estate) theatre company, who brought The Smile Off Your Face to Sydney Festival in January this year. Their mission with that boutique theatre experience was so clearly provocative that you go into Once and For All with reasonable expectations of being confronted.

After all that anticipation, what you see on stage for 70 minutes is 13 young performers, aged between 14 and 18 yrs, acting out a playful piece about the wildness and aggression, the tenderness, the bittersweet freedoms of being young. Who wouldn’t want to be a voyeur, to 13 attractive young Belgians, with the glow of youth that is now a distant memory for most theatre audiences?

So for the next 70 minutes you watch the teenagers, well, being teenagers on stage. As you enter the theatre, you hear the offstage noises of the performers letting loose, cat-calls, hollering, screaming, amping each other up. The stage is set with 13 chairs of different shapes, sizes and colours. Velvet Underground’s ‘I’m Waiting For The Man’ kicks in, the teens begin to come on stage, haphazardly.

For the first ten minutes the 13 teens chatter, talk, torture a barbie doll, flick each other’s genitals with balloons, swing at each other with bags, play with props including disposable cups, a skateboard, chalk, some rope, a garbage bag. They’re intimate with each other and then aggressive. At the sound of a bell, they stop, scramble about cleaning up their mess, and exit the stage.

Any illusion of spontaneity disappears when the teens return and re-enact the same series of actions precisely, but each with a different inflection. These variations perfectly capture the paradox of youth – that one’s spontaneity is in fact largely self-conscious; that things being experienced for the first time in one’s life, echo countless previous generations.

Each variation styled to a different track – Jose Gonzalez’ sweetly nostalgic modern folk version of ‘Heartbeats’; the teens prance and preen to the operatic strains of Delibes’ ‘Lakmé/The Flower Duet’; they stomp in unison to techno-hardcore anthem ‘Strike Again’ by The Donkey Rollers.

At their most playful, they don’t even appear on to the stage, simply throwing out props from the sidelines, spitting water, using concealed wires make the chairs topple as if on their own – to Peggy Lee’s 1969 rendition of ‘Is That All There Is’?

It’s not all play, however – they get wild, and smashed; one young girl, standing on a chair, raises her arms as if in an ecstasy haze, mouthing the lyrics ‘I’m Alive’ to Monster Magnet’s heavy metal ‘Cyclops Revolution.’ By the final scene, the stage has become a swampy, paint-soaked playground, strewn with clothes, toys, plastic bags, balloons.

The aggression is thrilling, and the playfulness is charming. The performers are all charismatic and fascinating to watch, and no doubt everyone walks out with their ‘favourites’, since you cannot physically follow everyone at once. Above all this is entertainment. The most profound thing it says about the teenage experience is tied up in our reaction, and what memories it invokes from our past.

There are a few genuinely provocative gestures that are really exciting – one girl talks about wanting a dick; another makes the audience yell the word “fart” repeatedly, urging us to let go – whether your participation or lack thereof is motivated by the spirit of adventure, peer pressure, or the fear of humiliation, it is an exercise that encourages you think.

A haunting denouement of Radiohead’s ‘Videotape’ followed by ‘First Breath After Coma’ by Explosions in The Sky, concludes one of the most energetic and refreshing 70 minutes of theatre I have seen this year.

Dee Jefferson

Performance Space @ Carriageworks
The Hosts: A Masquerade of Improvising Automatons
Reviewed August 14, 2009

The Hosts is a new interactive media installation by Sydney artist Wade Marynowsky. It‘s the most recent in a series of projects by Marynowsky exploring humankind’s relationship with automata (robots), focusing on Japanese roboticist Masahito Mori’s theory, “which suggests that in designing humanoid robots one should not aim for total human likeness, but for an alternative to an uncanny appearance.”

The Hosts demonstrates that whilst it is true that robots that look ‘human’ are creepy, Marynowsky’s alternate offerings – robots that look like ‘robots’ but engage in simulated human social activities – are equally unsettling!

Marynowsky has created four larger then life size robots. Themed on a masquerade ball, they wear sumptuous, embroidered ball gowns by designer Sally Jackson and individual masquerade guises – a clown in black and white harlequin print, a princess in a pink ribboned bodice, a military officer with star and stripes and a cowboy-hatted cowboy.

Faced with the end result – not unlike Daleks in drag – I have flashbacks of scary 1980s Dr Who episodes, leaving me frozen, half expecting to hear the words, “Exterminate! Exterminate!”

Instead the robots giggle amongst themselves, headlights flashing and twinkling conversationally. Gliding gracefully, they ‘dance’ a completely automated, sensor-based choreography – with not a remote or control panel in sight – to a silent soundtrack in an otherwise empty exhibition space. Lights dimming to a dull glow, they pause periodically, and commence spinning in unison like robotic whirling dervishes.

Surrendering to the absurdity of the situation, I too giggle and venture a little closer – but not too close. It would seem a lifetime of science fiction and computer mishaps has left me with a very real distrust of machines! However I can conclude that The Hosts – creepy, intriguing and amusing – is a must see installation for 2009.

Bridie Connell

Performance Space at Carriage Works
Grind House Alley by Bio-Kino
Reviewed August 14, 2009

Grind House Alley is an intimate, interactive, and confronting performance piece by Bio-Kino – aka artist/researchers Guy Ben-Ary and Tanya Visosevic. The duo specialise in creating ‘living screens’ by reducing original films to a microscopic level and projecting them onto screens made of live biological cells using a ‘Bio-Projector.’ The cells react and change, distorting the film, and eventually die.

Lured by the racket of Ben-Ary pounding away on a ramshackle drum kit, I enter the ‘Bio-Parlour.’ Styled on the vaudevillian sideshows of early cinema, it smells like a sweaty boy’s locker-room. At once I’m confronted by a corseted, top hatted spruiker (Visosevic), attempting, rather unsuccessfully, to lure nervous looking punters to view the ‘living screens.’

”Want to see my hoochie-coochie? She’s beeeauuut-i-ful!” Visosevic screeches motioning to two, microscope style ‘Bio-Projectors’ – one inside a coffin, the other behind a backlit pink curtain. Not a fan of audience participation, my date quickly fades into the wall. Thankfully someone makes the first move. Silhouetted behind the pink curtain the viewer becomes a part of the spectacle. He leans into the microscope, observes for a moment and re-emerges grinning.

“Quick she’s dyyyyyying!” Heeding the warning I take my turn behind the curtain, peering through the lens to discover ‘she’ is actually hundreds of wiggling active sperm. Hmm, that explains the grin, possibly explains the smell.

Next is the coffin. I peer through the lens at a tiny burlesque-style dancer taken from an early film and projected onto a mottled background I later learn is blood. Her moves are far more captivating then Visosevic’s possession-style gyrations and I could happily watch this ‘living screen’ until its demise but I’m conscious of a queue forming, so I rescue my date and exit the Bio-Parlour.

Our noses still reeling, we both agree that whilst the artistic use of biotechnology in Grind House Alley is fascinating and visually impressive, the rather abject, sideshow presentation, which is an intrinsic part of the Bio-Kino experience, will never appeal beyond a fringe audience.

Bridie Connell


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