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sydney performance


other worlds, outer limits

keith gallasch enters paradise city


Alexandra Harrison, Paradise City Alexandra Harrison, Paradise City
photo Heidrun Löhr
IN BRANCH NEBULA'S PARADISE CITY, AN INTENSELY ABSORBING, LYRICAL, NIGHTLIFE STREET CULTURE FANTASIA, A YOUNG MALE TEASES HIS SKATE BOARD INTO AROUSAL. BATHED IN BLUE MOONLIGHT, OTHER FIGURES GRADUALLY ENTER, KEEPING THEIR DISTANCE, CIRCLING SLOWLY UNTIL, LIKE SOME EMERGENT LIFE FORM THEY BECOME ONE, AN ORGANIC BLEND OF SKATEBOARDER, BMX-BIKER, B-BOY, DANCER AND A RISK-TAKING ACROBAT FURIOUSLY SWEEPING AROUND THE PERFORMANCE SPACE.

The whole then quietly dissolves into a series of virtuosic solos, individuals filling in very real time in which slowness is as great a challenge as speed. The bike rider (Simon O’Brien) in near zero motion lifting his bike and himself into slow turning one-wheel stands. The skateboarder (Michael Mulhall) accelerates, riding the ramps at either end of the stage diagonal, hanging above them in long split seconds of suspension.

The board and the bike are prostheses with which their owners are utterly at one, while the vehicles of the dancers’ (Kathryn Puie and Anthony “Lamaroc” Lawang) are their bodies, every walking step fine tuned into subtle moves, precise articulations and sensual ripplings—life is dance. They all intersect and the mood grows playful and then risky as the trickster (Alexandra Harrison) instigates a series of interruptions—leaping onto the moving bike, letting it run her over—and takeovers. Her talent lies in plundering from others the tools of their talent, cruelty delivered with a wry grin as she orchestrates the almost surgical removal of board and then bike from their owners whose deprived bodies, frighteningly limp, slide slowly down ramps, emptied of life and meaning. She likewise removes and wears the clothes of a melancholy singer (Inga Liljestrom) leaving her only her voice and perhaps offering something else as suggested by the langorous mood of the pair’s final moments on the ramp.
Inge Liljestrom, Kathryn Puie, Michael Mulhall, <BR />Anthony “Lamaroc” Lawang, Paradise City Inge Liljestrom, Kathryn Puie, Michael Mulhall,
Anthony “Lamaroc” Lawang, Paradise City
photo Heidrun Löhr
Life returns, individuals kick into action, reclaim the tools of their being and their lone, ego-less virtuosities until the street gradually empties in a kind of entropy, the energy of the night wound down in a wave of defeats and little resurgences that mean nothing compared with what has been. Begin again. Branch Nebula’s Lee Wilson and Mirabelle Wouters have created a work of poetic intensity out of everyday play, dance and physical theatre, making the most of oscillations between stillness and action and, above all and magically, of the strange time-space in between. It’s not a big picture work, more a moody, romantic portrayal of a small, intense cosmos. Characterisation is minimal, the bodies do the speaking, though Alexandra Harrison’s devilry benefits from pleasure visibly felt, and Bob Scott’s sound score is satisfyingly enveloping. The ‘paradise’ of the title is at first glance ironic but, despite their occasional falls from grace, this street in this city is mostly heaven for its denizens and for those who espy them. More and more audiences should be invited into this strange paradise.

the whistling man

PACT’s imPACT ensemble production for 2006 bristled with young confidence—strong collective playing, a stark, demanding political vision and a thoroughly integrated design. The effect, economically achieved, was of entering the huge white cube of a conference centre replete with lectern, mike, big screen and mysterious logo, with elaborate media operations boothed to one side. In the squared seating layout came the gradual realisation that people mingled with in the foyer and now sitting next to us were performers, suddenly very edgy citizens not at all happy with, deranged even, by the state corporation merger being sold them in words aptly borrowed from PM Howard. Formalities are constantly interrupted by people who insist on dancing, dropping their trousers, making embarrassing confessions or deviant political commentaries. Audience members are sometimes asked to give up their seats as crowd control swings into action and dissidents are relocated by an apparently benign but increasingly brutal organiser.
PACT, Whistling Man PACT, Whistling Man
photo Heidrun Löhr
What played out well in The Whistling Man was a suspenseful sense of impending chaos and the ever increasing vulnerability of those who object to an indiscriminate and irrational application of power, responding with their own apparent madnesses. Bizarre moments of uniformity erupt—sudden line dancing. Abstracted, pixelated faces on the screens gradually form the recognisable shapes of those around us heightening our sense of identification but also the paranoia induced by surveillance, including the spotlight that picks us out from time to time. Where The Whistling Man took us in the end I’m not sure, a climactic rebellion or a collapse into all-dancing dysfunctionality? Had the state’s induced madness destroyed it? Although the overall escalation of intensity was keenly felt, the framing of the corporate gig/conference/rally seemed, its desperately growing oppressiveness aside, to lose its shape and meaning. Perhaps that was the point but it left the performance without the charged political dynamic it initiated. Nonetheless, The Whistling Man had many strengths, not least a much more contemporary multimedia design than usual for PACT, one thoroughly pertinent to the performance’s concerns.


Branch Nebula, Paradise City, co-creator, director Lee Wilson, co-creator, designer Mirabelle Wouters, Sydney Opera House commission, produced by Performing Lines; The Studio, Sydney Opera House, Nov 30-Dec 10, 2006, www.branchnebula.com

PACT Youth Theatre, The Whistling Man, performers 2006 imPACT Ensemble, media designers Spat+Loogie, Teik Kim Pok, sound designer James Brown, set designer Kenzie McKenzie, design mentor Imogen Ross, lighting designer Clytie Smith, movement consultant Chris Ryan, director Regina Heilmann, dramaturgy Bryoni Trezise; PACT Theatre, Sydney, Nov 29-Dec 10, 2006

RealTime issue #77 Feb-March 2007 pg. 44

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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