June 27 – 28 2014
Reviewed by Xanthe Coward
You might have noticed I’m not reviewing community theatre this year. Sorry about that. Sometimes we have a writer available to catch something or other (for example, tonight Maree was able to see The Breakfast Club, an amateur production at Brisbane Arts Theatre), but there is actually too much on to keep up with it all! While we’re being casual and chatty here, you might also have noticed that I’m several reviews behind the eight ball. Sorry, especially to those involved in the productions in draft form on my desktop. I’ve been teaching full time again, as well as rehearsing Diabolique, our original production, which was selected for inclusion at the Noosa Long Weekend Festival, and I’ve got a looong To Do List for the holidays! I promise I’ll catch up!
Vincent, a contemporary dance work by local choreographer, Melissa Lanham, not only interested me on a number of different levels but it exemplified the creative process that we see all too often go unsupported. Fortunately for Melissa and co, the project received funding from Ausdance Queensland as well as the support of private investors, which means the work was able to have a showing at the end of its first creative development phase.
Well, how did you think new great work is created!?
We saw the premiere of Vincent this weekend and there’s no doubt that the work, as I’ve experienced it, deserves another lump sum to take it to the next level. I understand the plan is to take it to Perth next and then tour it from there. I’ll look forward to seeing that next stage of development because while I was unmoved, a friend who has only recently rebranded herself as a painter (the painter had been lying dormant for decades, as so often happens, beneath another professional persona) emerged from the dark theatre with tears streaming down her face, at a loss for words. She’s seen something in it that I’ve missed, obviously, but what I see is the potential of this production to have a similar effect on a broader audience…if only they have the opportunity to witness the work.
Vincent’s production elements are well balanced (music by Ezio Bosso, Max Richter & Kleefstra-Bakker-Kleefstra), and the performances by three professional dancers (Andrew Haycroft, Michael Smith & Chloe Lanham) are slick, despite some suitably angular and seemingly untidy choreography, including lifts, climbs, and tightly, fiercely manipulated turns. I’m not sure anyone else would refer to the choreography as being “untidy”‘and I mean it in reference to the style only, the execution of it is excellent. In this context, that’s just what it is to me and it’s fine. There are moments when the dancers are practically falling about themselves and all over each other. There are other very neat and precise moments, and there are some longer moments when the dancers are positioned behind set pieces so that the movement itself is partially obscured (I’d like to see those moments/movement sequences brought out front!). There’s even a well-timed body slam thrown in for good measure. (I guess if it were not well timed we’d be calling it an unmitigated disaster!).
The space at The Lind is small, stripped bare and like this it presents a certain level of intimacy, which is helped by a movable set – just two panels used effectively to separate time and events – and an intense lighting design that serves in turns to alienate us and bring us close to the work, and seemingly, within the reach of van Gogh’s crazed mind. But I feel so separated from the action throughout and I can’t tell whether or not that’s the intent. How do we ever relate to madness? One’s madness is one’s own, surely. But should I be sympathetic?
It’s a terrible, tragic demise of an artist but I feel nothing.
Of course Sam will tell you it’s because my heart is frozen that I feel nothing (That’s right. I look for a white streak through my hair every morning). He’s not a contemporary dance fan and he genuinely enjoyed this production. I’m genuinely surprised.
The piece begins with an uneasy soundscape to indicate a noisy crowd, to which van Gogh (Andrew Haycroft) eventually reacts in a violent, vocal manner, tearing at his hair and his paint smeared shirt. He’s unable to cope and it sets the scene for his descent into madness.
The deterioration of van Gogh’s mental state is fast – it’s a short show – and we are offered insight along the way through van Gogh’s brother’s eyes. Theo writes to him, pleadingly, but to no avail; the artist continues to “waste” paint and create works that remain unappreciated and, more importantly, unsold in his lifetime, much to his own and his brother’s chagrin.
The story, as it is in this state, is actually ultimately told from Theo’s POV and I’d love to see the show develop around his narration. Haycroft is well cast as Vincent, vulnerable in the titular role and demonstrating convincing quirks and characteristics throughout, but he doesn’t need to speak. The initial guttural sounds are enough. Conveniently, Haycroft even LOOKS like van Gogh (ears intact, you’ll be relieved to know). He’s a strong dancer and has a good sense of self, space and just the right measure of drama.
Michael Smith is vocally the strongest performer of the three – his letters to van Gogh are perfectly pitched and phrased – and I feel like the story needs no other voice but his. A final dance solo above and around and beneath a chair, which he brings forth through the audience, proves his core strength and superb control, as Theo loses control after his brother’s death, “drowning” in his own madness, but it goes on and on, and we’re at risk of missing the point because it’s laboured, after being so obvious in the first place.
Chloe Lanham, in the abstract roles of the various women, the muse and all of van Gogh’s demons rolled into one, makes her presence felt from the moment her brightly body painted figure is revealed. She’s a dynamic performer and we enjoy the ferocity of the penultimate number, which also drags on but hones in on the voices inside the tortured artist’s head. There are not many lighter moments in the production and I wondered if there might be a positive relationship, other than with the brother, from which to draw. I’d love to see the joy and exuberance spent on the creation of Starry Night applied to a relationship with one of the few women who were not immediately discarded by van Gogh. Instead, we see a strange romp in which the artist’s self portrait is replaced by the artist himself in a fast-paced six-legged waltz around the stage. This, for want of another, is a lighter moment but even more so, it’s disturbing.
A highlight at this stage is a dramatically hanging light, weighted perfectly, obviously, allowing it to swing pendulum like from above, the likes of which has never before been seen in this space, and the lighting generally, by Melbourne based (Sunshine Coast bred) designer, Travis MacFarlane. As if it’s not tough enough to light a contemporary dance piece, MacFarlane has created a plot that perfectly frames the action and cleverly leaves enough darkness around the edges to remind us that it’s into the shadows we must go if we truly wish to find (and face) ourselves.
There is excellent economy of movement in Lanham’s physical work, which now needs to be applied just as effectively to her storytelling. And this is what government funding and the next stages of creative development are for. Vincent is ambitious and far-reaching. The original investors have noted its potential already. Perhaps a pozible campaign will follow. Perhaps a venue or two will be bright enough to pick it up for a run. Perhaps we’ll see the next version sooner than we think. It’s a fluid, professionally finished production, even in this, its first incarnation. Look out for the second coming.
N.B. The English subtitles on the first video I found are an absolute disaster so check this one out!