22
Jun
14

de-generator

 

de-generator

Phluxus 2 Dance Collective

Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts

June 14 – 21 2014

 

Reviewed by Ruth Ridgway 

 

After the apocalypse…

 

The de-generator audience is ushered into the cavernous black gloom of the dimly lit theatre. There are no seats (and no stage) – we are in amongst the set and free to move around it. Twisted strips of shredded and silvered plastic hang from the roof in tent-like shapes, fastened to the floor with crisscrossed silver tape – the effect is of twisted steel and broken glass. Dull muddy-silver meandering strips like dirty water wind across the floor.

 

After we are plunged into complete darkness, and experience waves of thunderous sound, a small light shows and a man (Alexander Baden Bryce) appears. He lunges, twists, and drags himself along the floor, and stretches up imploringly, struggling to breathe.

 

Later, a woman (Amelia Stokes) enters, hobbling and bent over with pain, coughing, twitching and scratching. She twists and writhes, and throws herself into the air. She visits various piles of hoarded and salvaged objects: dingy-looking bottles of water, empty bottles, gas masks, bits of jewellery, torches, bits of fabric. The water is particularly precious, and she obsessively rearranges the bottles.

 

Both the man and the woman seem to have survived some horrific disaster, and are desperately struggling to survive. Their costumes are various wrappings and rags in protective layers – grey for the man and terracotta for the woman. Their eyes are surrounded in dark shadows, giving them a haunted look.

 

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When the woman and the man see each other, they circle like prey and predator. They wrestle and grapple, like feral creatures. The man dominates in this contest, and treats the girl brutally, even when you think they are on the point of being kind to each other.

 

When the man collapses though, the woman revives him, after some hesitation. She sponges his body with a rag and pathetically tiny amounts of water – his feet first then hands and body and lastly the face. (If you had only one bit of cloth, wouldn’t you start with the face first, not the feet, which are probably dirtiest? However, it had to be the face that was last, because that’s when the man revived.)

 

Eventually, the pair reach a more harmonious state, and in two more lyrical and hopeful segments they dance as if in slow motion. The sound, which for the most part has been thudding, crashing and exploding like the end of the world, and vibrating from the floor up through our feet, changes to more peaceful music (all composed by Andrew Mills). At this point, are the two people exhausted, dying creatures, or are they heading into a new beginning?

 

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The performance ends as they stand still, and the soundscape changes to news reports about apocalyptic events – nuclear war, earthquake, climate change, fire, tsunami etc. For me this felt jarring and too obvious. I think we all got the message without this very literal information about different apocalyptic events. However, it did unmistakably leave us with the question ‘Will we ourselves survive?’

 

The audience is very involved in this show. We cluster around the dancers, and the dancers in turn herd us to spaces they don’t want to occupy, as we keep out of their way. We are part of the performance – choreographed as the negative of what the dancers are doing. Are we playing the roles of bewildered sheep-like victims of the apocalypse? Or maybe we are ghosts – I thought I saw one, but it was probably an audience member in the gloom.

 

Choreographer Nerida Matthaei (Phluxus Artistic Director), with dancers Stokes and Bryce, has achieved an impressive feat in devising and carrying off a piece of such weight and destructive energy with only two performers (plus audience). The dancers, performing demanding and intense movement under very close scrutiny, kept us engaged and involved, and dealt impressively with the mass of the audience moving around them.

 

There were some drawbacks. Sometimes it was hard to see what was going on because people were crowding in front of each other. You need to stay alert and follow the action. The performance lasts an hour, which was about my limit for standing after a day at work. The slower, more lyrical sections at the end felt a little long.

 

Post-apocalyptic stories are, paradoxically, an enduring genre that goes back at least to the biblical Noah and the flood, and probably earlier. de-generator joins current book/film examples of the genre, such as The Hunger Games, The Road, and the coming film Z for Zachariah.

 

Post-apocalyptic style has also been with us a while, and is popular at the moment. As an example of the style, the de-generator design (set and costumes by Lisa Fa’alafi, and lighting by Keith Clark) also reminds us of the dark and dire inspiration behind it.

 

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Phluxus2 Dance Collective has been supported by the Judith Wright Centre’s Fresh Ground program, made possible by Arts Queensland.

de-generator has been support by Creative Sparks,a joint initiative of Brisbane City Council and the Queensland Government through Arts Queensland.

 

 

 

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