Friday, May 25, 2012

Monster Boyd [sic]: more on Atlanta Eke

280 years ago, Jonathan Swift wrote a cracker of a poem about a bloke who sneaks into his GF’s boudoir to have a bit of a snoop around.  He finds stained undergarments, smelly stockings, evidence of snot and facial hair, and all kinds of grotesque potions and appliances.  (Which, weirdly, reminds me of the first time -- as a teen -- I saw a girl use an eyelash curler... I swear, I wouldn’t have been more shocked if she had pulled out a speculum.  What a contraption!  Think: Lisa looking at the affordable [i.e. non dental-plan] braces in The Simpsons.) 

Strephon, the young man in Swift’s poem, discontinues his search when he finds a ‘chest’ in Celia’s room.  He just has to lift the lid.  The Pandora’s Box. 

It’s her chamber pot. 

Thus finishing his grand survey,
Disgusted Strephon stole away
Repeating in his amorous fits,
Oh! Celia, Celia, Celia shits!

Quelle horreur! 

That great source of literary criticism and wisdom Wikipedia tells us that the poem is “sometimes seen as an attack on women” and that Swift “bitterly satirizes and derides in disgusting detail the human body and its functions, which he viewed as repulsive.” 

They’re projecting! 

Swift might be taking the mickey out of the Iron Curtain secrecy surrounding women’s business but, surely, Strephon is the goon.  Or, rather, his willingness -- maybe need -- to believe Celia is worthy of the plinth he’s put her on. 

This brings me (in a very roundabout kinda way) back to Atlanta Eke and Monster Body.  (Or Monster Boyd as my Freudian fingers INSIST on calling it.) 

But, first, let me rewind a little. 

Eke did a piece for the last Next Wave Festival, part of the Natalie Cursio-curated event Private Dances at the Meat Market in 2010.  Now... cos I hate spoilers and avoid them like the plague in my reviews -- even to the point of not writing about certain shows at all where little can be said without ruining the surprise -- I haven’t said anything about Eke’s piece You & Me... just in case it had a second life or toured or something.  In the years since, Eke herself has said a fair bit about the show, more than I would have, so I feel that I can say a little about that show. 

Staged in a tent large enough to stand and slow dance in, each audience member in You & Me was greeted on entry by a diminutive gorilla of indeterminate sex.  The gorilla -- we’re talking baggy body suit with a really hideous face -- invited each punter to slow dance while a romantic torch song played. 

Now, despite the size of the gorilla, I had a suspicion I might be dancing with a boy.  (This was confirmed in an excellent interview with LALA in which AE is quoted as saying: “I did try to become [a] man or women depending on whatever I imagined the audience member desired and would fall in love with.”)  [Thinks: oh great... even gorillas think I’m gay!!]  (More serious aside: I wonder if this extract is only a part quotation and if, as at a Penny Arcade show, the dancer would try to take you out of your normative comfort zone... so girls would dirty dance straight girls and boys did the same for dykes, for example.) 

It’s worth noting the quality of the slow dance.  In mine, it wasn’t a dance of seduction.  Nor was it a dance of limerence.  It was a faintly tragic dance of attachment.  Doomed somehow. 

Now, the thing I took away from the experience is just how annoyingly effective pop music and a little bit of intimacy can be.  I was in love, for a moment, with this really ugly animal.  Stupid heart!  And then cast out. 

If you saw/participated in the show, you will already be wondering WTF.  What about the second part of the show?  Well, dear reader, I was the last person through for the night.  And that was all she wrote.  No wonder I had a skewed perception of the piece.  I was puzzled by it. 

In conversation with others, afterwards, I discovered that every other punter (before me) got to watch the next audience member dance with the gorilla from a ‘blind’, a hidden little alcove in the tent.  So, not only did everyone else who saw You & Me that day have the shock of realising that they had been watched, they had to deal with that shock while perving on the next person. 

Of course I cannot imagine what that cocktail of emotions would taste like.  Nor, of course, could I go again another time and experience it.  (You see what I mean about spoilers?!) 

Anyway, the short version is, if I may reiterate what I said in the picture postcard review of Monster Body, is that Atlanta Eke is quite the conceptual artist.  Fiercely feminist, fiercely committed to her art and hell bent on finding our buttons and stabbing at them. 

I’ll only mention a couple of moments in Monster Body I think.  The opening is no spoiler to anyone in the Next Wave orbit.  When we walk into the downstairs space at Dancehouse, we’re confronted by Eke, naked except for a small ape mask, hula hooping on a small glass and metal platform, exactly unlike the hula girl on my last post.  No delirious joy, no hint of sexiness and, importantly, no scope whatsoever for objectification. 

With bright fluorescent lights shining on both Eke and the audience, we’re the ones who are exposed.  Vulnerable.  Nowhere to hide.  Nowhere, even, to look.  If the piece had ended there, a hugely important point had been made. 

If I remember my feminist theory, the problem with pornography isn’t the prefix, it’s the suffix.  It’s not the explicitness, it’s the ‘writing’ of it.  The mediation of it.  The commodification of it.  [And let me stop you right now, I know that this argument is a hokey one on a number of levels, not least because of the Greek root of the word is something like the writing of harlots... and within the word for harlot is a selling/trading element... we could be here for days!] 

Personally, I find it impossible to objectify a body in space.  A live video-feed of it?  No problem.  (Which I discovered watching Penny Arcade’s Bitch! Dyke! Faghag! Whore!

In the program notes for Monster Body, the following line appears:

Through her work, Atlanta experiments with her young-ish, relatively symmetrical and healthy self to subvert the image of the female body used to sell you a Coca Cola or an American Apparel knit, seeking to rescue the representation of the female body from the grip of capitalism. 

Fair enough.  Capitalism is fair game.  As is the Male Gaze.  (Can we just call it The Gaze please?)  Which made the next moment, between scenes, so generous and so touching.  It said: All Men Are Bastards, but you might be okay.  A young man in a hazmat style dust suit towels her sweaty body down.  They’re still visible, but behind the main playing space.  Functionally off-stage.  There’s a bit of chat, inaudible to us, and a kiss on the mouth for good luck.  She goes in for a second or a third.  We’re voyeurs, now.  But privileged.  We’re given permission to see.  (Interestingly, ‘look’ would have been the wrong word in this context.  ‘See’ is more exact.) 

I’d like to write more about what follows and the reasons why I was troubled by it.  But not here, not now.  Except to say my concern is this: where do you go next... without appearing on or efukt? More can be said, too, to contextualise Eke in a spectrum of artists from Karen Finley to Annie Sprinkle.  (Eke is down the Finley end right now. Happily.) 

Artists like Atlanta Eke (and we have a couple of real commandos, mostly young and female) are tiny little Davids facing down a monstrous Goliath of trafficked femininity.  It’s a Quixotic task.  But you can’t fault the attempt. 

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Thursday, May 24, 2012

God. As if there wasn’t enough brilliant theatre on this week... the following shows -- three of them close this weekend -- are all highly recommended. 

Persona. Fraught Outfit. At Theatre Works, Acland Street St Kilda. Tickets: $28. Bookings: or 03 9534 3388. Season ends Sunday.

Detached from the political and social upheaval of the mid 1960s and stripped of Ingmar Bergman’s ostentatious visual tricks, the screenplay of Persona is as intriguing as a Strindberg psychodrama. An actress who has abandoned speech, apparently by choice, is cared for by a young nurse.

Alma (Karen Sibbing) shows the world just the one persona, it’s her professional face as a career nurse, secure and rather prim. Certain. As a stage actor, Elizabeth (Meredith Penman) has countless faces, but she can take none of them seriously. In the face of Elizabeth’s psychoanalytic silence, Alma talks, confesses and then shatters.

Adena Jacobs’ hi-key production makes strikingly good use of a notoriously difficult space. There’s a Jenny Kemp-like sensuality in the staging and remarkable focus and passion in the acting. From the limpid translation to Dayna Morrissey’s multiple framings of the action, this is piece with no obvious flaw.

Stockholm by Bryony Lavery.  Red Stitch Actors Theatre, St Kilda. Tickets: $39. Bookings: or 03 9533 8083.  Season ends Saturday. 

A play for passionate lovers this one.  For the young and/or obsessive! 

In Bryony Lavery’s dense and sensual short play, passionate love is presented as a dangerous and potentially destructive force.  The greater the love, the greater the vulnerability for the lovers, particularly for the ironically named Kali -- who shares a moniker with the Hindu goddess of empowerment. 

Kali is a hostage of her intense love.  A birthday celebration for her partner Todd -- a planned trip to Stockholm -- takes a savage turn.

An ideal choice to direct this poetic play, Tanya Gerstle further enhances her reputation as a visionary director with a focussed and exquisitely choreographed production.  Actors Brett Cousins and Luisa Hastings Edge deliver Lavery’s words and Gerstle’s actions with unselfconscious and captivating gravity.

It’s a devastating and affecting hour in the dark. 

Another Red Stitch production is having a second life thanks to the Arts Centre. 

The Laramie Project - Ten Years Later by Moises Kaufman and members of the Tectonic Theater Project. Fairfax Studio, the Arts Centre. Season ends Saturday. Tickets: $30-$35. Bookings & more information, here.

This “ten years on” sequel to The Laramie Project is a cooler, less sentimental affair than the original, but it has an urgency every bit as righteous and indignant. Instead of reporting the murder of a young gay man, the sequel combats the degradation of the moral of the story.

Just as one of Matthew Shepard’s killers now rationalises his act by claiming that the 21 year-old victim was a sexual predator, wider America would rather believe Shepard’s death was a result of a drug-fuelled robbery than a hate crime.

Gary Abrahams’ busy and determined production papers over the play’s odd imperfection, and acting from the entire cast of nine (especially Paul Ashcroft and Emily Thomas) is scintillating. Another impressive and unmissable Red Stitch production.

A third Red Stitch production, believe it or not, is doing the rounds. It started its 2012 tour in Frankston and has dates in Shepparton, Upwey, Colac, Rosebud, Moorabbin, Warburton, Warragul, Sale and Geelong before a season at Glen Street. 

Here’s my Herald Sun review of the 2010 premiere. 

Stop. Rewind by Melissa Bubnic. Red Stitch Actors Theatre. Tour dates.

Anyone who has worked at the butt end of the public service will wince in recognition as they watch the staff of the DDDPTS, the local government office in Melissa Bubnic’s terrific new play Stop. Rewind.  Those who haven’t worked -- or no longer work -- in the lower depths of hell will rejoice.   It’s like Pink Floyd’s song ‘Time’ made sickly flesh.

But this is no ordinary David Williamson or Roger Hall-style satire.  Firstly, we’re privy to the innermost thoughts of these frustrated, pathetic, thwarted losers, all hanging on in quiet desperation.  We hear what they actually say and what they really want to say.

In a series of astonishingly concentrated scenes, the playwright reveals to us the inner lives of each of the workers.  Many of their heartbreaks are avoidable... if only they dared to speak their minds.

Clearly, Bubnic has worked closely with the ensemble in the time she has been playwright in residence at Red Stitch.  The collaboration pays off handsomely. Acting, direction and design are simple but effective.

This is PoMo writing for traditional theatre and for traditional theatregoers.  It manages to be smutty. satirical, wise and deeply affecting, often all at once. 

Stop. Rewind is Red Stitch near its very best.  

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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Atlanta Eke’s Monster Body (Next Wave, Dancehouse)

If you’re hoping to see this:

Or this:

Or even this:

You might be disappointed... Though the triple-breasted hooker from Total Recall is closer to the mark than you might think. 

But if this is more your thing:

And you’re not afraid of a bit of this:

Then you might be ready for this:

(Promotional image for Monster Body, click on the image to enlarge.)

As recently as yesterday, I was describing Atlanta Eke as the closest thing the local dance community had to a conceptual artist. Today, I need to take revise those words. She is now the closest thing the conceptual art community has to a dancer. 

I’m still working on a ‘review’ -- though it’s looking too tangential to call it that -- so consider this a place holder. And go see her show, if you dare. It is a considerable advancement on anything Eke has done to date. Angry, controlled, daring, thoughtful and provocative. No doubt about that... 

Monster Body by Atlanta Eke.  More information: here.  

And my rant about Monster Body -- still not quite a review -- continues here.  

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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Dewey Dell’s Cinquanta Urlanti, Quaranta Ruggenti, Sessanta Stridenti (Arts House/Next Wave)

We know them in English as the Furious Fifties, Roaring Forties and Screaming Sixties -- the windy latitudes of the Southern Hemisphere, but in Italian, the fifties howl (urlo) and the sixties are strident (stridente). The forties still roar.

I confess, I didn’t give wind so much as a thought during Dewey Dell’s storm-force show. I was too busy being blown away! But how on earth do I describe this show without diminishing it? Without pinning the butterfly to the board? Without reducing it to the sum of its (admittedly miraculous) parts?

It’s recognisably dance -- spectacularly limby and controlled, even in the nunchaku-like flailing of the arms -- but it’s the dance of the computer-animated aliens. Possibly non-organic aliens too!

The look of the piece had me thinking of that Philippe Decouflé choreographed video for New Order’s True Faith. There’s a weird mime element to Cinquanta Urlanti. Well, there is to my eye. That’s partly a function of the jodhpur-padded hips on the dancers. The headgear, too, is disconcerting: the three faces are reduced to a ringflash of white. The lighting is so carefully judged that we can allow ourselves to imagine that we’re looking through each head. Through a hole. Think hoods and hollow men and imagery from horror comics, and the fantasy sequences in Led Zeppelin’s film The Song Remains The Same.

There is a miraculous detail in each thrust of the hand and each held gesture. At times the three bodies form fan-like patterns or seem to spell out a word or make a pictogram. I imagined, for a moment, what it might be like to be the alien (40,000 years in the future) that finds the gold-plated copper record sent out into the cosmos with Voyager, by Carl Sagan and NASA, in 1977, and trying to decode the playing instructions.

"In the upper left-hand corner is an easily recognized drawing of the phonograph record and the stylus carried with it. The stylus is in the correct position to play the record from the beginning. Written around it in binary arithmetic is the correct time of one rotation of the record, 3.6 seconds, expressed in time units of 0,70 billionths of a second, the time period associated with a fundamental transition of the hydrogen atom. The drawing indicates that the record should be played from the outside in. Below this drawing is a side view of the record and stylus, with a binary number giving the time to play one side of the record - about an hour...”

From the first seconds of this show to the sustained fade out, god knows exactly how long later, I felt I was in good hands. Sure hands. Goodly hands.  In the hands of artists who knew how to dial it up without deafening me, who knew how to make me quake without smashing me to bits. In the hands of artists who love every single element of their medium and know its capacity. Artists who believe in the collective act of theatre.

 This was church, man! Numinous.

Ah, now I’m getting there.

 The German theologian Rudolf Otto -- who wrote the proverbial book on the numinous -- reckoned an encounter with the divine had a couple of elements: one was trembling or quaking in fear; another was fascination, a kind of compulsive attraction; a third was that it was a personal experience -- a communion if you like -- with something alien. With something wholly other.

So, dear reader, when I call Cinquanta Urlanti, Quaranta Ruggenti, Sessanta Stridenti divine art, I mean it more-or-less literally. Alas, there is just one more performance here. (I saw the third in a four performance season, last night.) Dewey Dell has a second show (a collaboration with local performers) opening later this week.

Photographs by Demetrio Castellucci

Cinquanta Urlanti, Quaranta Ruggenti, Sessanta Stridenti by Agata Castellucci, Demetrio Castellucci, Teodora Castellucci and Eugenio Resta. Performed by Sara Angelini, Agata Castellucci and Teodora Castellucci. 

Choreographed by Teodora Castellucci. Original music by Demetrio Castellucci. Sets and costumes by Eugenio Resta. Set realised by Rinaldo Rinaldi. Sound by Marco Canali.  

At Arts House, North Melbourne Town Hall, May 21.

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Monday, May 14, 2012

Relic: The Go-Betweens at the Crystal/Seaview Ballroom, Friday May 14, 1982

Like the Boys Next Door resurrecting Shivers before they lifted anchor, The Go-Betweens gave us Karen in their farewell gig, something of a rarity even then. (Not sure if this was their last gig in Australia, but it was certainly the last in Melbourne for a good while.) But the real highlight in an unusually hot gig was I Need Two Heads. 

A bit of a spin-out to realise this was thirty fricken years ago. 

It was also the day I got my hands on the expanded 12-track Rough Trade release of Send Me A Lullaby. Only now do I realise that I've bought that set three times... the Missing Link "mini album", the UK full set and, finally, on CD, to get the bonus disc. And, at last, to be able to listen to Two Heads without having to set the belt-drive to 45rpm. 

 You needed to know that.

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