MIAF 2006: past the point of return
Seasons are typically very short, such is the way of the world when large touring ensembles or complex productions are involved, but it’s almost possible to see everything this year... and a few are trying! (I had a head start, seeing Mantalk in its Fringe incarnation and Now That Communism is Dead at its B-Sharp debut in Sydney last month.)
A scene from I La Galigo photograph by Russel Wong
Paradoxically, my “run of luck” turned -- dramatically for the better -- exactly one week into the Festival, when the second wave would, traditionally, have kicked in.
Just when I was starting to worry that it might be my problem that nothing was pushing my aesthetic buttons, the tide turned. Works by Robert Wilson, Sekou Sundiata, William Yang, Lucy Guerin in a bit over 48 hours. Simple and complex, wordy and wordless, poetry and dance...
I La Galigo advances Wilson’s quest to create a piece of total theatre. It might even be the culmination of that quest. The individual parts -- music, singing, movement, set and lighting design, the text and performance text, even the priestly blessing and supervision of the show -- are so perfectly harmonised so as to seem indivisible.
It’s not uncommon in Wilson’s oeuvre for one element to pick up the slack when another loses its way. (When the music is brutal and stodgy at the start of Act II of Einstein on the Beach, for example, the choreography is glorious. When the direction is feeble, in the next scene of that act, the music is inspirational. And so on.) Here, though, it’s less about quality and more about energy. When our attention starts to flag, thrilling percussion kicks in and makes us sit up and pay attention anew.
When the performance in the vast State Theatre begins to feel distant and two dimensional, vertical gold filaments are lowered at the rear of the stage -- maybe fifty of them -- and more widely spaced filaments are lowered at the apron of the stage -- ten of them -- lending an extraordinary sense of depth and drawing us in, once more, to the action.
The placement of the Bissu Priest (who initiates and drives the story) mid-way between stage and audience is a device Wilson has used before; also in Einstein on the Beach. (The Einstein character sat in exactly the same spot, playing the violin, facing the audience... both participant and witness.)
Coppong Daeng Rannu, centre, as the Goddess of Rice
In his notes for I La Galigo, Wilson writes: “Often people ask me what my theatre is about: usually I say I do not know. My work is, in most cases, formal. It is not interpretative. To me interpretation is not the responsibility of the director the author or the performer: interpretation is for the public.”
As I write in my review of the show for Herald Sun, from most theatre directors -- the ones who have far too many ideas or far too few -- that would be a cop-out. You know: if you don’t get the show, it’s your fault. You’re not trying hard enough.
Wilson shapes the material, paces and phrases it. He creates the space in which we can imagine. Puts a frame around it. And he invites us to imagine.
Instead if dissipating into a void, the energy is contained and builds. Meaning evolves. Accretes. We feel secure enough -- brave enough -- to read meaning from and into the gestures and images and sounds of an alien, ancient culture.
When the daughter of the ruler of The Under World and the son of the ruler of The Upper World meet in I La Galigo’s epilogue, we watch her gestures -- horizontal sweeps of her hand, palm flat -- and his -- vertical sweeps like a wave of greeting -- slowly entwining and merging in a complex, sensual and incredibly evocative resolution to an unfamiliar tonic. That’s quite some achivement, Mister Wilson.