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Kym Vercoe, Seven Kilometres North-East Kym Vercoe, Seven Kilometres North-East
photo Heidrun Löhr
VERSION 1.0 FIRST FOUND FAME THROUGH THEIR GROUP WORKS, SUCH AS CMI (A CERTAIN MARITIME INCIDENT) AND WAGES OF SPIN. MORE RECENTLY, HOWEVER, THEIR SOLO SHOWS HAVE BEEN GARNERING ATTENTION: PAUL DWYER’S BOUGAINVILLE PHOTOPLAY PROJECT AND NOW KYM VERCOE’S SEVEN KILOMETRES NORTH-EAST. LIKE DWYER’S, VERCOE’S WORK IS ABOUT HER AMBIVALENT ENTANGLEMENT WITH ANOTHER COUNTRY, TOLD THROUGH AN ELEGANT COMBINATION OF STORY, SONG AND IMAGE.

Sitting in the slightly dingy surrounds of the Old Fitzroy, spectators see a small stage with two stones, which double as stools; on the opposite side is a shelf with tea, beer and a few books. In the background is a large white wall, onto which the image of a rotating propeller is projected. Vercoe stands on a small stage above this, pegging pillowcases to the four clotheslines that stretch across the upper reaches of the space. Once she has completed her task she enters the lower stage via a door in the middle of the screen.

From here Vercoe introduces herself and her home away from home—Bosnia and Herzegovina—a country with which she feels an inexplicable, and inescapable, connection. She has visited three times, in 2004, 2008 and 2010; or, as she puts it more poetically, in autumn, summer and spring. She has more than 17 hours of video footage from these visits which video artist Sean Bacon has helped her to edit down to a more modest, though still mesmerising 80 minutes. Throughout the play, images of rivers, mountains, flowers and birds dance before our eyes. In fact, birds are a recurring motif, with each section named after a particular species and aligned with a series of video tapes. In between each section, a “songbird” sitting in the audience stands and performs a folk song.

Tapes 1-3, titled Prologue, deal with her first visit: there is a party; a man; some linguistic misadventures; and the discovery of Ivo Andric’s book The Bridge Over the Drina. Tapes 4-7, The Swallow (the symbol of return), deal with Vercoe’s second trip and her visit to this famous bridge in Višegrad. In one striking moment she spreads coffee grounds on the floor in the shape of the bridge and enacts a passage from Andric’s book, her lithe body dancing along the bridge. Towards the end of her trip, in Tapes 7-11 The Cormorant (sometimes a symbol of deception), she visits Vilina Vlas, which is located roughly seven kilometres north-east of Višegrad (hence the title). The hotel is nice enough, however when she returns home she discovers that it was a rape camp during the Bosnian war, a fact not mentioned in the guidebook. This discovery prompts her to email the author. More significantly, it prompts the slow, sickening realisation that in order to make peace with herself (and perhaps to make this piece of theatre), she is going to have to return to the scene of the crime.

Kym Vercoe, Seven Kilometres North-East Kym Vercoe, Seven Kilometres North-East
photo Heidrun Löhr
The final section, titled The Nightingale (whose song is sometimes interpreted as a lament), sees Vercoe back in Bosnia where she meets the author of the guidebook as well as journalists who covered the war. When it all proves too much, she puts on her headphones and listens to A-Ha’s “Take On Me.” The music blasts through the space as she dances her way across the floor, smearing the coffee bridge in the process. The movements resemble Vercoe’s previous dance, which we had assumed was her interpretation of Andric, but thanks to video footage in the background we can now see that she has borrowed the moves from someone we assume to be a Bosnian busker.

For the most part, Seven Kilometres North-East is thoughtful, beautiful and beguiling, so if there is a criticism to be made of the performance, then it is a criticism of memory culture more broadly. Vercoe’s easy (over)identification with the victims—unable to sit where they might have sat, thinking about how her own unknowingness echoes theirs—means that her role, and ours as bystanders go largely unexamined. Though we may not have stood and pegged clothes on the line while looking at the rape camp down the hill, we are all complicit in the crime to varying degrees. Indeed, this is one of the insights of the show, which could be pushed further—innocent, ignorant, distant and belated, it may be that there are many types of bystanders, many modes of complicity.

There are also many modes of erasure. When Vercoe contacts a local history centre for the information about the women who were in Vilina Vlas, their names cannot be released—one final annihilation, as she puts it. Similarly, when the new guide to Bosnia is released, the entry on Vilina Vlas has not been amended but simply deleted.

On that note, Vercoe strips off, opens the door and steps into the shower. The image of the bridge is projected onto her naked back as she washes herself clean of sins that were not hers, are not ours and yet are everyone’s. Eventually she steps out of the shower but the water continues running, weeping, cleansing—until finally, it stops.


Version 1.0, Seven Kilometres North-East, devisor and performer Kym Vercoe, video artist Sean Bacon, dramaturg Deborah Pollard, musical director Sladjana Hodzic, lighting designer Emma Lockhart-Wilson, production manager Frank Mainoo, producer David Williams; Old Fitzroy Theatre, Sept 30-Oct 6

This article was first published online Nov 8, 2010.

RealTime issue #100 Dec-Jan 2010 pg. 33

© Caroline Wake; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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