Sunday, March 24, 2013


I must admit that I didn’t really know what to expect as I (as well as others) were ushered into the darkened space of the Arts House theatre in North Melbourne yesterday to see a performance called More or Less Concrete - Dance Massive, choreographed by Tim Darbyshire. We were informed only that head phones were supplied and that there would be smoke affects.
Through the head phones I could audibly hear the words: test, left, right, centre repeated slowly, over and over again until the words became softer and there was silence. I’d already closed my eyes in this almost completely darkened space filled only with smoke affects and one muted, but bright orange light on the stage and felt like I was drifting into a meditative space. When I opened my eyes I could barely make out the amorphous beings at the back of stage that appeared to be slowly changing in an obscure tunnel, from one form into another as muted and indecipherable babblings were emitted through the headphones. I knew what I was listening to was some kind of conversation, but I couldn’t decipher what was being said and in this strange and muffled condition in which both my sight and hearing was challenged, I felt alienated but equally fascinated.  I was for the first five minutes of this performance utterly entranced and thoroughly mesmerized whilst being simultaneously bemused.
As I adjusted to the lack of light and began to concentrate on the minute movements of the bodies I could appreciate the subtle arrangements of each of the performers which generated, albeit quite slowly what appeared to be different, but recognizable life forms and other less recognizable shapes that suggested a being of some kind in the process of becoming something not yet named or identified by the viewer. Because the performers wore identical, almost puffy body suits the shapes that they produced by their measured contortions never suggested the monstrous, indeed their fluid, curved shapes appeared (at least to me) to be benign in their compassionate attempt to be other than their previously form. And, although at times their movements might have been construed as mechanical, since they were performed as a timed gesture, it was the relationship of the human body to the animal that impressed, since I for one could see any number of animal forms emerging in their shapes, a timely reminder that the human is closer to the animal and is becoming more and more in our biomedical future reliant on human/animal relationships.  This was, for me, one of the most interesting aspects of the work for in the absence of information the mind tends to create something, anything, to explain what we are seeing. A kind of mind mapping occurred and at one stage I could see primates playing with each other, at another three small elephants swaying back and forth in a jungle, the antlers of deer produced by clever lighting angles on the performers raised hands.
The color blue, which permeated the fifty or so minute performance, symbolic of intellect, the sky and sea, was a calming affect that evoked bio-luminescence and microscopic sea life.  It was this aspect, as well as the continuously morphing shapes that suggested that this performance was addressing evolution of the human form as well as the psyche; for many of the shapes appeared to depict human emotions. At one stage I saw the bodies of the victims of war, Muslim women huddled together, and people in poverty. The struggle for existence was obvious not only in the fact that the creatures were attempting to evolve to some form that would allow them to ultimately be, but the struggle of being human itself was particularly felt. However, having said this, I was left feeling that each audience member may have been mapping their own psychology onto what they were seeing and this was I think the strength of the work.
Time was pivotal in this performance and the temporal was evoked not only in the extremely slow changes that occurred through the intimate configurations but also the manner in which it was metered out in particular rhythm by the performers beating their hands or feet on the floor. Much control and physical labor would have been required as the actors moved certain parts of their bodies in ways that we would not generally do so. I had taken the head phones off about half way through the performance. I wanted to experience the sounds unmediated, just as they would have been experienced in real life. Towards the end of the piece the bodies of the ambiguous, anonymous performers, were finally revealed, for as they stood we could see their faces, then, just as quickly they became somewhat ghostly figures that disappeared from misty front of stage through a less than concrete portal back through endless  time. I cannot give enough praise to this amazing performance and I congratulate Sophia Cowen, Tim Darbyshire and Josh Mu (the performers) for their resilience and indisputable ability.

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