Posts Tagged ‘ben ely

02
Dec
18

Depthless

 

Depthless

The Farm

Judith Wright Centre

November 30 – December 1 2018

 

Reviewed by Shannon John Miller

 

 

Six lights pinned to the proscenium blanket the stage in a rich, dark purple hue. A drum kit sits to the right, where a mess of guitar effects pedals, and chords are strewn across the floor in the shape of a crescent moon ending in amplifiers upstage. But everything is side-on, and to the right as if we’re about to view a concert from the wings.

 

A man, Guy Webster, appears from the darkness gently playing a simple riff on an acoustic guitar, and channelling Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, adding poetry and lyrics. A light in the far corner swings like a lighthouse, bathing the audience in film noir. And behind that light a genderless form emerges, Harman, languishing upon the ground, as if being moulded from clay.

 

 

She then appears in a short gold, sequinned dress and deliberately toys with clichés of feminine beauty, fantasy and desire. Her movement is expressive and infantile, conjuring the tragic Hollywood princesses; Munroe, Lana del Rey, and Lolita.  However, these skins are abandoned and replaced by Denham and deeper more emergent cravings. And the electric guitar becomes a site of male power of which Harman seeks to possess and subvert. A rock battle ensues, with Harman and Webster’s dispute conveyed through a breathtaking pas de trois between them and the electric guitar.

 

Running just under an hour, we’re treated to a uniquely performative rock odyssey. Harman, fully embodies the defiant muse, desperate, through expressive movement, to break free of both artistic assumptions of her sex, and the confines of her musical creator, Webster. Harman’s choreographic process is seemingly limitless in her ability to communicate physically. She leaps exquisitely from a sumptuous, lilting naivety to a worldly, violent grace, while playing on the audience’s assumptions of women’s roles in art, sex and dance.

 

And she is a worthy adversary to Webster, a remarkable musician who pushes his acoustic and electric guitars past their limits, even if at times a little too loudly. He experiments with every conceivable part of the instrument from arpeggios, to plucking strings of the pegboard, and torturing it in distortion with his many implements. It’s as if the guitar is a third character in this two-hander. He draws from the guitar a soulful grotesqueness, then resolves dissonances with recourse to musical energy evocative of Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix and Hans Zimmer. At one point, he repeatedly launches the guitar across the stage, dragging it back by its chord like the god Sisyphus punished for all eternity to roll a boulder up a hill.

 

There is real conflict and tension here as one artist seeks to assert dominion over the other’s right to possess the guitar. Webster, trying to preserve a status quo as Harman remains unyielding in what is a beautifully engineered tug of war. We, the audience are in the crossfire, and it’s our expectations of what we suppose to be gendered artforms that are challenged, and at stake.

 

 

While the work is supreme, the structure could be tightened of unnecessary dramatic pauses. Yet even still at its zenith, the work explodes in a drum kit-fuelled frenzy of anger and joy; an ex-machina soothed only by a fragile reverie. But who will surface victorious?

 

Ballads by multi-ARIA award winning musician Ben Ely of Regurgitator, are beautiful and while seemingly unrelated, are perfunctory as is the dialogue to the play, because the central narrative is the politics of movement between Harman and Webster. This unique work is more than just showcasing two talented performers, but an important commentary on the state of the art, and audiences’ oppressive demands on what is entertainment.