Posts Tagged ‘phluxus2

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.