Posts Tagged ‘nerida matthaei

25
Oct
19

Explain Normal

 

Explain Normal

Daniele Constance, AHA Ensemble & Phluxus2 Dance Collective

Metro Arts Sue Benner Theatre

October 17–26 2019

 

Reviewed by Ruth Ridgway

 

 

What I think we’ve learned in the making of this work is that there’s a whole spectrum of perceived ‘normal’ and normal behaviour. This show is about celebrating the parts of normalcy that we find difficult to reconcile with as well as celebrating our own ‘normalcy’. In this show, we get to decide.

 

Daniele Constance, Director

 

Explain Normal focuses on celebrating people’s abilities and on seeing both their superficial appearance and their fundamental inner qualities. It is moving, but not sentimental, often funny, and surprising in what the characters choose to tell us about themselves or about some aspect of life.

 

This is a collaboration between Phluxus2 Dance Collective and Aha Ensemble, a physical theatre group established in 2015 to support the development of artists living with disability and impairment. The ensemble, and this show, are directed by Daniele Constance.

 

 

Explain Normal is a physical theatre work combining spoken word, movement and contemporary dance, enhanced by some clever electronic technology, and inventive sound and visual design. (Sound and AV design is by Joseph Burgess, photography and videography by Jorge Serra, and lighting by Keith Clark.)

 

In between movement sequences, performers take turns at the microphone, each talking about something very different and unexpected, from ‘normal ways to die’, to lost socks, a one-night stand, and the end of a friendship.

 

The set consists of a moveable framework and platform, screened by clear plastic-strip curtains (like a giant shower cubicle), and a screen backdrop for projection of still and moving images. The nine performers, seven from Aha Ensemble and two from Phluxus2, are dressed simply in everyday clothes — T-shirts, pants, jumpsuits and sneakers. They appear in various combinations as blurred figures inside the cubicle, and moving outside to the floor of the performance space. The contrast underlines the difference between the way we see others without appreciating who they are, and the way we ‘see’ people more clearly as people.

 

 

The creative team (including Constance (Director), Nerida Matthaei (Choreographer), Ruby Donohoe (Assistant Director), Min Collie-Holmes (Dramaturg), and the performers) have created a polished, yet still raw-edged show. The structure and pace I’m sure owe a lot to the input of Dramaturg Min Collie-Holmes: the spoken pieces are mostly very punchy, and the combination of movement and speech, and the flow between them, work well. The recurring theme of superficial impressions contrasting with what’s underneath provides a robust infrastructure, and its strong exposition at the start and end of the show provides a satisfying and energising resolution.

 

 

The show begins with performers seen blurrily through the plastic curtains. Photos of people are projected onto the large screen, and different voices describe them in detail, starting with the words ‘I see …’ and moving from the obvious superficial characteristics (e.g. ‘pink shirt’, ‘blue eyes’) to other, deeper impressions and qualities (e.g. what the person might be feeling). The accompanying sounds are harp-like ripplings.

 

Three performers in turn stand in front of the screen and with their hands trace around the images. As they do so, thick coloured lines are drawn around the images: pink, yellow, pale blue and bright magenta. The characters stand in front of different images, as if trying to fit themselves into the outlines, while other outlines continue to be drawn. The larger the outlines get, the less detail they include.

 

We then hear a rustling noise, and a large figure, in an orange blow-up suit covering every part of the body, strides down the stairs through the audience onto the performance floor. The outline of this grotesque figure is like the rough outlines around the projected images, but we know that there must be a different, more sharply defined person (Nadia Milford) underneath. In an effective movement sequence, the figure dances with a tall young man (Charles Ball), who grapples with it, and hurls it around, giving the impression of trying to get at what’s underneath.

 

In two dream-like sequences, a performer wears a lovely ‘halo’ made of strings of tiny white lights wound into a net-like cap, at first appearing behind the plastic curtains in dim ambient lighting, then coming out to mirror another’s slow waving movements before retreating. Later, Tara Heard is crowned with these lights, appearing as the embodiment of a touching monologue, spoken by another performer.

 

Megan Louise West has a powerful, yet gentle, presence in her initial appearances interacting with the projected photographs, and in her monologue about an intense friendship. Another memorable moment is a solo by Mitchell Runcie, with its raw, jerky movement matched by Joseph Burgess playing strident electric violin.

 

There are some ensemble dance scenes, one featuring two women (Rebecca Dostal and Allycia Staples) who lift others and whirl them around with great ease. A frenetic scene to pounding electronic music has all the performers dancing wildly as if in a club, led by an amazingly energetic Ruby Donohoe. Leading into this, Donohoe has taken the microphone and verbally described a series of images projected at a blistering pace, becoming more frenzied as she goes.

 

Finally, all nine cast members walk up the stairs between the audience and sit on the steps. They pass the microphone around and, each starting with ‘I see …’, make some short observations about the audience (if you are nervous about audience participation, don’t worry – this was a very inclusive experience!). If an audience member shows that they are willing, they might have their own chance to say what they see. None of us put ourselves forward on the night I was there, though.

 

A final, incisive remark rounded off this thoughtful and entertaining work: ‘I see people looking, but what is it that we don’t see?’

 

29
Jun
15

The Paratrooper Project

 

The Paratrooper Project

Phluxus2 Dance Collective

Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts

June 25 to July 4 2015

 

Reviewed by Ruth Ridgway

 

Enter the trenches in this immersive new production…

Phluxus2 Dance Collective

 

THE+PARATROOPER+PROJECT+hero

 

The Paratrooper Project is promoted as an immersive experience, and this it certainly delivers. Described in the brief program notes as a dance theatre installation, it is the theatre that dominates.

 

War and conflict and their effects are the subject. Richard Matthaei, grandfather of Phluxus2’s Artistic Director Nerida Matthaei, was a paratrooper in World War II, and this work was inspired by mementoes he left behind.

 

The audience stood (or occasionally sat or lay) on the floor of the performance space in the Judith Wright Centre, with white parachutes and webbing suspended above us, sometimes billowing up and down, and covering the performers.

 

Their layered costumes (Lisa Fa’alafi) are all also white – pants, tunics, shirts, and military-looking coats with wide lapels. This makes the performers stand out amongst the audience, but could also connote ghostliness, death, and the afterlife.

 

the paratrooper project

 

The audience starts out standing huddled in a crowd under a tent-like parachute. Is it going to fall on us? Is there going to be sudden blackout? No, there are performers in there with us, they start speaking, and the parachute lifts.

 

The creators and performers – dancers Nerida Matthaei, Gareth Belling, Gabriel Comerford, and actor Margi Brown Ash – move through different areas of the performance space, the audience shifting (or being directed to shift) around them.

 

The sound design (Andrew Mills) includes clinking sounds like dishes or metal in a workshop, waves breaking, and a plaintive fragmentary tune.

 

Belling and Comerford represent soldiers or fighters, engaging in much violent, grappling movement, frequently crashing with full force onto the floor. They also enact roles of the wounded or dead, the torture victim, and the rescuer.

 

Matthaei is at first a grief-stricken woman, widowed by war; later, a chilling torturer; and then a rape victim. She and Brown Ash also speak of matters on the domestic front, such as tea and biscuits, and borrowing sugar.

 

paratrooper_gabriel

 

Brown Ash is the dominant, compelling force in this work, her mesmerising authority and the power of her voice unequalled. In a surreal evocation of domesticity, she paces around while knitting and trailing an unravelling ball of wool behind her.

 

In this she echoes Madame Defarge, from Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities, who incorporated the names of intended guillotine victims in her knitting, and also the Three Fates from Ancient Greek stories, who created and destroyed people’s lives by spinning and cutting thread.

 

Brown Ash also parodies a Churchillian wartime leader, exhorting and haranguing us; and huddles and flinches as a terrified torture victim.

 

This is not comfortable escapist theatre.

 

The audience is instructed, harangued, and physically directed around the space. Brown Ash took people by the hand and led them where they were meant to go, until the rest of us understood we were meant to follow. Others were invited to take part in some of the action.

 

paratrooperproject

 

Brown Ash orates at the end about the idea of war continuing on, and affecting us now. Moving amongst us, she then asks us to remember the dead, and give them a voice. Most of the audience engaged in a very personal way with this, seeming to forget where they were, and becoming totally absorbed in the moment.

 

This work is gripping and moving, and pulls you into its orbit.

 

Occasionally, though, the attention lapses when some parts go on a little too long (such as the dancers hurling themselves to the floor over and over at the end).

 

paratrooper

 

In Phluxus2’s previous work de-generator, the audience also followed the dancers around the space, but moved out of the way of the action without any guidance.

 

This current work is a more sophisticated and choreographed development of audience involvement. It is more powerful, covering more dimensions of experience, but also more coercive and controlling for the audience.

 

07
Jul
14

Caligula

 

Caligula

The Danger Ensemble

With support from Judith Wright Centre’s Fresh Ground program

Judith Wright Centre

July 3 – 12 2014

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

CALIGULA+hero

 

Right after seeing The Danger Ensemble’s latest visual feast mindfuck, Caligula, Sam offered Director, Steven Mitchell Wright, the most apt description I’ve ever heard of his work:

 

“Someone shot you in the head, and the bits of your brain that slid down the wall to land on the floor is what you’ve made this show with.”

 

The design elements are beautiful (Designers Benjamin Hughes & Nathalie Ryner), the first ten minutes – otherworldly beautiful – and then, once we’ve heard from two tour guides (not your usual suspects and serving in this moment as Greek Chorus) about Caligula’s character and infamous short reign over the Roman Empire, all descends into chaos. We transcend time and place to find ourselves lost somewhere between “history” and the fetish clubs of the 21st century. It’s loose, it’s a little wicked, and it’s not anything at all like you might expect, even if you thought you were familiar with The Danger Ensemble’s work. And that’s the thing.

 

The Danger Ensemble is the only company in the place doing this work. It’s bold and cheeky, and it’s quite often crass and downright revolting (it’s no secret that I disliked Sons of Sin), but it’s being made and THAT is a beautiful thing.

 

The work itself usually contains, on some level, a whole lot of brutality, sensuality, classically derived text, and new interpretations of ancient beliefs or popular opinions or bits of history. This work, just as Loco Maricon Amour did, boasts moments of immense beauty, and subtlety too. The images conjured (and they are conjured, as if by magic; as I’ve noted before, Steven Mitchell Wright’s expertise in painting pictures on stage is impressive), are capable of affecting us in a way that only art can. Each piece or tiny moment is unique and we respond to it in such a personal way that sometimes the effect is difficult to describe. Sometimes, when I’m writing up a show like this, I just wish you’d been there. You need to get out more! Experience the work!

 

Had you been there, you might have breathed more quietly, or held your breath, or tried not to visibly squirm, or tried to stop yourself from digging your nails into the palm of your hand as the beating of your heart quickened…

 

Have you ever sat through a delivery boy’s litany on the pros and cons of fisting (Stephen Quinn), or listened to the deadpan delivery from a woman wearing the horns of Beelzebub (Lucinda Shaw) on how to skin an animal while the “animal” twitches and tenses and dances and stumbles and eventually dies in front of you, collapsing into a deep pool of plastic party cups? No? See? You just don’t know how you’ll respond to that! How good is live theatre!?

 

The cast has been literally cast to create white plaster torsos that hang from the gods and rise to reveal the actors behind them, only to stop and hang in mid air, to look over the strange, sordid action that follows. The effect is a haunting reminder that somebody, whether or not we believe it to be a pantheon of gods, is always watching. We are, each of us, responsible for the way we choose to feel but we realise too that our words and actions have an impact on those around us.

 

DRIVE CAREFULLY, PEOPLE.

 

Sometimes while Sam drives I write, and as I write I’m grateful the P Plater in front of us has wrenched himself back onto the highway instead of dying in the gutter tonight. How close we can come to death. How sad it is that we need these reminders to truly value our lives. And then there are those who ignore the reminders and continue to live ungratefully, recklessly, selfishly, and viciously. They make me sick. And then I remember I can try not to feel disgusted by their apathy for the feelings of others. Try to frame it differently. Try to feel compassion. Poor, stupid people who go through life hurting others… That’s right, isn’t it?

 

An entire section of Caligula (and, it seems, the Dharma), has been completely lost on me; it’s almost a stand-up comedy segment comprising Chris Beckey and Nerida Matthaei using hand held mics to hold a rather odd conversation about the ways she wishes to be hurt by him.

 

I want you to hit me with your car.

 

Really? YOU WANT HIM TO HIT YOU WITH HIS CAR. Who would want that? Is it a metaphor? Is it a kiss with a fist?

 

 

It made me think of a few things, including another song, you know, the Swedes singing about driving a car into a bridge? I’m appalled that Poppy knows the lyrics and we’ve talked about how crazy and ungrateful it is that she wouldn’t even care, about her life, about other peoples lives, about what happens in the lives of the people she leaves behind… I also think of an ex-boyfriend who was genuinely an emo (I know, what was I thinking? I’m actually a beach baby! And I love happy endings!), and that stupidly disturbing and unnecessarily revoltingly violent film, which I never finished watching and never will, Irreversible.

 

There’s the thought too that Nerida Matthaei’s choreography makes Caligula a convincing “dance theatre” piece (it’s a term that seems to be bandied about a bit at the moment), as much as it is a work of theatre or contemporary performance art. I can imagine this show performed in all its parts at various times of the day and night in a place like MONA.

 

I enjoyed Beckey’s voice – rich and salubrious – vocally and physically his is a consummate performance as always, right to the glittery end. And the twitching, dying movement sequence mentioned earlier, performed by Gabriel Comerford, will be sure to sear some sort of cruel image on your mind so you’ll certainly remember him the next time you see him (or hear about Anna Krien’s Us and Them). Even without Steven Mitchell Wright on stage – he cut his role the day before opening, as it seemed superfluous – this is another bold configuration of one of the country’s most confident, most consistently challenging creative companies. What we’re seeing here is the earliest version of this piece, thanks to The Judy’s Fresh Ground program; it’s a slightly messy birth but we know that whatever this baby looks like in the first instance, we’ll give it a chance.

 

Caligula comes to us at the perfect time, challenging our perceptions of what art is, what is acceptable to see and to talk about in public, and what parallels are to be drawn between historical and current leaders and followers. Power, wealth, sex, power. Power. Who else is asking the questions? Who else is presenting multiple possible answers for us to discuss and digest?
It’s true (and unfortunate) that The Danger Ensemble flirts with financial ruin when compared to the obvious commercial successes of our pretty, lovely, light and fluffy theatre companies but then, why compare? The work is unapologetic, pushing the proverbial boundaries and promising nothing at this stage but a unique night out, which you certainly won’t forget but you might not want to remember. Regardless, let’s see more of it!

 

CALIGULA2

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.

 

DE-GENERATOR+production1

 

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?

 

de-generator+Production+Image+2+2014

 

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.

 

DE-GENERATOR+hero+full

 

 

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.