The show must go on... and the understudy must go on too.
Having failed to catch the last wave of tiredness into the shore of sleep, I now find myself caught in the rip of insomnia... leg roped to some truly terrible metaphors. (I've been reading Tom Wonton's newie -- I rather like that typo, might leave it in -- can you tell?) So you, dear reader, will reap the -- er -- 'rewards'.
The call came at 1:40 this morning: "I had to leave at interval, you'll have to write the review." Which is why I missed the last wave. I had to review INUK 2 for the Herald Sun. It's not the first time something like this has happened. It's one of the perks of divvying up reviewing responsibilities with a couple of others. Once 'K8' had a migraine (La nausée, if you ask me!) part way through an MTC show at the Playhouse. I was enlisted to write what Julia Blake would call "The Notice [Brackets, Bastard]."
Inuk, incidentally, is the singular of Inuit
It's quite a challenge, actually, this night watchman thing. When I'm off-duty, I apprehend theatre like tele.
This time, though, I was geared-up. Sort of. My dance reviewer colleague had a baby on Saturday, but Wonder Woman fronted up to review INUK 2, a new piece by Meryl Tankard for Sydney Dance. When I ran into her on the Arts Centre forecourt before the show, I broke into a few bars of Madonna. I sang: "Ex-press yourself!"
So... Steph got the great seat in the stalls while her 'husbang' was home holding the four day old baby, and I was relegated to the nosebleeds seats. Steep? Hell! They're okay for ballet, when you're watching line and length, but for Meryl, not so good. Not intimate enough.
My first (unreliable) memories of Meryl Tankard are of an ABC TV arty variety show called Pack of Women, with the yodeller herself, Robyn Archer. The first time I saw Meryl perform live -- certainly one of the first times -- was in a lightweight show called Travelling Light at the Studio, as it was called way back when.
It had 'audience participation'. (Grrr, grrr! My attitude is -- or was -- I've paid my money, YOU can do all the frickin work!!) And I was seated on an aisle. When approached by the smarmily smiling Meryl, microphone in hand, I responded to her question (mic. now firmly planted in my gob) that I didn't speak English. I said it in fairly convincing Italian. Guess wot? The next question... was in Italian. Perhaps Spanish. I dunno. I just slumped. (Yes, Meryl, it was meeeee!) But before this becomes a rant about audience participation (another time, another time... I'll tell you about being tea-bagged by a man in a kilt -- with the most evil smelling, sweaty balls -- during a comedy fist-evil... or that other time when...)
Meryl, bless, was back from her stint with Chaka Khan's company in Wuppertal. (Pina Bausch for those who don't appreciate my lousy attempt at humour [sic].) But her star was about to slingshot into the heavens when she went to Canberra and formed a small ensemble around her. And started to choreograph (in the BIG sense of that word) the most remarkable and beautiful pieces of dance theatre.
Like Twyla Tharp in her early days, Meryl's were all-women outfits. Long hair was pretty much essential. (I'm not kidding, a buzz-cut could cost you a contract!) She loved girly banshees.
And she made a string of pearlers. Nuti, Kikimora, Songs with Mara, Furioso, and some brilliant solo works. VX, Two Feet, you name it. Her works crossed art forms. Fused them. They were installations, theatre, pure dance, musical, true 'opuses'. (I know, I know, it's 'opera' but stick with me.) Her audiences -- loyal in the cities her company toured to -- were solid; hungry for this stuff that got contemporary dance out of the ghettoes... without compromise or pandering to schlock tastes. I remember how shocking it was when Meryl finally cast a man in one of her works! (A tall, striking actor with a Roman look about him.)
I was reminded of all this last night because Meryl's chorey looked all wrong on most of the men of Sydney Dance. Even the great Bradley Chatfield -- who is among the very best dancers this country has produced in the last decade or two -- had his wings clipped. Connor Dowling too.
If you've seen the promo image for this show -- compact girl dancer (Emee Dillon) holding barebacked boy (Reed Luplau) in front of her, parallel to the ground, as if he's weightless -- you'll have guessed that this is a show about (at the very least) female strength and gender equality. Male submission too, perhaps.
Production photograph of INUK2 by Regis Lansac
Of course, when it came to the crunch, the first woman to do the heavy lifting was guest dancer Sarah-Jayne Howard, pictured on the right, who could bench press me one-handed. And, yes, while there was some nice boisterous stuff in the first Act, like a good-natured tag team bout in which the girls got to beat up on the boys, the best choreography was undeniably feminine.
And, finally, only two of the dancers did it absolute justice. Only two would make it, I dare say, into a new Meryl Tankard company. Correction. Two would be drop-dead certainties. A handful of others would (at the very least) get call backs. (You know who you are!)
One of them was the divine Reed Luplau. The other was Annabel Knight who kicked off the show on her tippy toes, like a 21st century Faun. Both manage to dance like mercury, like newly-anointed angels trying out their limbs and wings, without cockiness or apparent self-consciousness.
Five minutes into this work, even from the nosebleeds, I was thinking: better than sex!
But that proved to be one more of those nasty premature evaluations.
Q. Will the early squelching around turn into a Long Slow Grind?