Wednesday, October 10, 2012

2012 Melbourne Festival: Prelude or Overture? Force Majeure’s Never Did Me Any Harm

A couple of weeks ago on Facebook, Brian Lucas posed a challenge:

I’d love responses to the following statement.......

“The most interesting/engaging/exciting ‘dance’ being made at the moment is happening within the ‘theatre’ sphere, and the most interesting/engaging/exciting ‘theatre’ is happening within the ‘dance’ sphere.....

My favourite response came from Amanda McErlean: Sorry, my head just exploded.

I know the feeling. I reckon I see as much dance and theatre as just about anyone. More than any sane person would. But I’d be very reluctant to generalise. It’s easier to focus on individual works that work -- or not -- and ask why.

My hunch is that theatre has more to gain from dance than dance has to gain from theatre. Mainstage theatre, I reckon, has largely forgotten the essential force of the body in space, to its detriment. I can’t overstate that. That force is sine qua non. Without it, theatre is baggy TV.

By contrast -- and paradoxically -- dance has more to lose from theatrical pretensions. Let’s be blunt. It’s easier for a trained actor to dance competently than it is for a trained dancer to act adequately. But what I’m describing here -- dancers speaking -- is probably not what Lucas had in mind. And good theatre, of course, is so much more than the spoken word.

Lucas himself would have made a scintillating actor in the silent era. Such a freakishly expressive face and physique. Lucas has been in some of the very best and the very worst examples of that weird and temporary emulsion we call dance theatre: the sinister miniature Disagreeable Object (with Michelle Heaven) rates as one of the best, KAGE’s Appetite rates as one of the less best. (I can’t bring myself to knife it one more time. Go here and follow the links to the less-kind-than-mine reviews.)

The 2012 Melbourne Festival got away to a premature start last night with one of the most polished and accessible examples of mainstage dance theatre as you are likely to see. It’s the apotheosis of Kate Champion’s long, long quest to achieve a stable fusion of dance and theatre. Shrewdly, it’s being staged in the MTC’s Southbank Theatre and should find an appreciative audience there.

It won’t disappoint a dance audience either. Sarah Jayne Howard’s in it. (Enough said!)

Never Did Me Any Harm is an open-ended response to The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas. It’s about parenting and conflict over parenting; about the nanny state mentality which rewards all children equally and prevents them from climbing trees; it’s about parents treating their children like puppies, wanting them to be friends rather than disciplining them. It’s also about choosing to be childless. (Tracy Mann’s monologue about that is a blinder.)

The balance between words and gestures is finely tuned and close to perfect. One rarely detracts, or distracts, from the other. Opening voice-overs are illustrated by the gestural dance. It’s as if we are watching a speech simultaneously translated into the most elegant sign language by Sarah Jayne Howard and the equally remarkable Josh Mu.

Champion’s casting is excellent: dancers at one end and actors the other, with a few cross-over artists. Actor Alan Fowler is a natural mime and comic -- watching him play a chimp and a nose-picking toddler is a joy -- dancer Vincent Crowley has a strong dramatic presence and a good voice.

Marlo Benjamin is such an expressive dancer, I left believing I had seen her act. (Her lipsync’d speech was quite perfect.) She plays the insistent, exuberant, narcissistic, demanding, aggravating child. She reveals the scalpel edge dividing play from tantrum. Catherine McClements does much the same, a moment later, as an annoying, teasing, tickling girlfriend... a slayer of solitude.

The overall polish extends to the lighting and excellent sound design. Geoff Cobham’s lighting, however, is way too literal. It’s too intrusive, hell-bent on declaring and manifesting the tortured inner feelings of the protagonists: an agitated, epileptic grid one minute, words crawling down a tree trunk the next.

I also thought the dramaturgy was a little too slick. It’s not glib exactly, nor is it reductive, but it felt overworked. Perhaps that was part of the deal/arrangement with the Sydney Theatre Company, with whom Force Majeure has collaborated on this production.

Still, this is a thought-provoking, engrossing, entertaining and impressive production. A very satisfying hour and ten minutes in the dark. There are six more performances. See it if you can. It might not be the future of dance, but it’s most definitely a future for theatre.

 Never Did Me Any Harm. Devised by Force Majeure. Presented by Melbourne Festival, Sydney Festival, Adelaide Festival and Sydney Theatre Company. Choreographed by the company. Directed by Kate Champion. Dramaturgy by Andrew Upton. Set and lighting design by Geoff Cobham. AV design by Chris Petridis. Composition and sound design by Max Lyandvert with an additional song by Jason Sweeney. Sumner Theatre, Melbourne, October 9. Season ends Saturday.

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Anonymous angus cerini said...

wChris Boyd, disagree entirely and completely with this statement: "It’s easier for a trained actor to dance competently than it is for a trained dancer to act adequately".

No it's not. No freaking way. If you took any professional dancer and asked them to embody a part - by first entering the physicality of it, then put them in make up and costume, then had them learn their lines to word perfect then led them through each and every nuance of the text after some time that dancer would be able to do a very very passable turn at the role they are acting. Naturally you would work with them on their voice, gesture and all sorts of things but given 2 weeks training in these actor basics, then I bet you ten thousand dollars they'd be awesome. They would also be able to dance the hell out of it.

But if you gave a professional actor the same task, they would do a top job of it naturally - being an actor with their voice and all that jazz - but two months later there is no freaking way their body would be able to do what the dancers body could do. For a start the very physical demands placed on the dancers body is not anything like the demands placed on an actors body. I bet you ten thousand dollars that I'm right in this.

You want a bet? You choose me the actors and the dancers to work with, all the production costs you can gather and I'll prove to you that what I say kicks what you say's arse!!!!

Or I'll take Brooke Stamp, Luke George, Byron Perry and Kristina Chan and I'll give you them doing a play. Find me the money Chris, you know you wanna see that!

Yeah these be fighting words :)
and much much love xo

8:00 AM  

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