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Geoffrey Dunstan, Kate Fryer & Rudi Mineur in Risk Reduction	Geoffrey Dunstan, Kate Fryer & Rudi Mineur in Risk Reduction
photo Angela Bailey
RealTime and Next Wave jointly commissioned the writers to talk to the artists and to attend rehearsals and presentations of 4 festival works-in-progress.

Alex Hutchinson:
Adam Broinowski’s Hotel Obsino and Geoffery Dunstan & Kate Fryer’s Projections of Fear

A description of the promo for inVISIBLE energies. A single piece of coloured cardboard, the promo is surprisingly subdued for a youth-related project. It avoids both the spastic application of Photoshop and any of the usual painfully deliberate misspellings which so often haunt similar projects.

A Biography of Adam Broinowski. As a performer Broinowski has worked for many companies, including Stalker (Blood Vessel) and Playbox (Thieving Boy/Like Stars in My Hands) for which he received the 1997 Green Room Award for best lead actor. Work as a devisor/writer includes Gherkin and Bucket of Blood Hotel.

An initial impression of Adam Broinowski. He sits with his legs crossed on the armchair at Bar Open, his fringe rising up from his forehead like sea grass. He talks fast and uses his hands a lot. He seems like the kind of guy you could take home to meet your mother, although you probably wouldn’t want to take her to his play. More on that later.

What is Hotel Obsino? Hotel Obsino is a play based on the real-life Hotel Hotham which squats in the heart of the city on the corner of Flinders and Spencer below a 5 lane train track beside the Yarra at its most effluent opposite Crown Casino and an active police station. The Kennett government wants to demolish it. Broinowski wants to write a play about it.

Where Hotel Obsino is at about a month before the work-in-progress presentation at the North Melbourne Town Hall which takes place about a year before the final presentation in May 2000 at the real-life Next Wave festival. Actually that last part is a lie. Broinowski has already written a play about it. Most of a play, anyway. He describes it as a portrait of an inverse Dante’s Inferno. A hotel populated by retired alcoholics on the ground floor, rising through middle-aged ex-cons to peak at young addicts. He says it’s about another time, another dimension, a sanctuary from Kennett’s dynamic Victoria.

A Biography of Geoffery Dunstan & Kate Fryer. Dunstan and Fryer have performed for various circus theatre companies in Australia including, between them, Circus Oz and Rock‘n’ Roll Circus. They have formed a new company, Dislocate, to create “quality narrative driven productions that combine acrobatic and aerial work simultaneously with text.”

An initial impression of Geoffery Dunstan. Geoffery Dunstan isn’t certain why he’s talking to me at all. It’s a work-in-progress, he says, and the article will come out after the presentation. What is this publicity actually doing? I tell him it’s all about process, about giving people a look at how a project goes from almost nothing to something. That seems to placate him. One of the first things he tells me is that he’s currently working as a body double in a circus themed Neighbours spin-off. I find the idea vaguely terrifying.

What is Projections of Fear? For a start, it might not be called Projections of Fear at all, but could in actual fact be titled Hug Your Monster or Risk Reduction. It’s a performance piece which combines writing with circus acrobatics in an effort to take a different look at the world around us. Dunstan talks about interviewing psychologists and the distance between traditional theatre and circus, and how there are groups on both sides who’d like to keep it that way.

Where Projections of Fear is at about a month before the work-in-progress presentation... Dunstan has just finished a week talking story with his navigator, playwright and director Michael Gow. He says he wants to find a way to create a more physical type of theatre while still hanging on to a sense of narrative. He wants to physically express ideas of social dislocation and try and uncover who it is that the city trains us to be. “Look at kids. From day one they’re taught that everything is terrifying. If people want to contain themselves, that’s fine, but when society does it…”

A note about Navigators. Each of the groups is assisted by a navigator. For Broinowski, this is filmmaker Tony Ayres. For Dunstan and Fryer, this is Michael Gow. Their roles vary. To Broinowski, Ayres is somebody to discuss the play with. For Dunstan, Gow takes a more active role. It’s his job to thread a story through Dunstan and Fryer’s acrobatics.

What’s so fascinating about process? It’s a question posed in various ways by both parties. Says Broinowski “Looking at another’s ‘process’ or the workings/mechanics of something fascinates people. Revealing things, uncovering things, showing the making of things, deconstructing things, pulling things apart.” Maybe it’s the next step along from selling productions by pushing the story of the author not the story itself. Now we can sell the story of how the production was put together. Maybe soon we won’t even need a final product.

Where Hotel Obsino is at a few weeks later. Broinowski’s biggest problem is finding a way to convey the essence of the finished play in a reading. While the final production will be fleshed out with movement, the performance at the Town Hall will be static. “I’m torn between linking the passages with summaries of what would happen there, and just telling stories about the 10 days I spent in the hotel.” Perhaps the most interesting point Broinowski raises is that before he went to the hotel it seemed to him as though the occupants really lived, “unconcerned with careers etc because that had been taken away from them. But afterward, I realised that it was a world I could never be a part of.”

Why show a work-in-progress at all? Broinowski: “In relation to Hotel Obsino, it seems to be very democratic to show a first draft to an audience and to listen to their responses. It gives the maker a feel for what they feel, gives the audience an option to voice an opinion before the work is done and brings a wider opinion than just the maker into the making. Anti-auteur I guess you could say.”

Where Projections of Fear is at a few weeks later. The preparation for Projections of Fear has been cut into 3 parts. The first involved Michael Gow and Dunstan sitting in cafes for a week, getting down on paper what was in Dunstan’s head. It was Gow’s role to build a narrative from Dunstan’s chunks of story. The second stage was Dunstan, Kate Fryer and Rudi Mineur working at Circus Oz, figuring out what they could and couldn’t do together physically. The last period was spent selecting the best aspects of each.

Part of an email from Broinoswki the morning of the presentation. “[Hotel Obsino] is still about poverty and fear in Australia, and the invisible distance between the classes—you could still say Alice in Deroland but less overtly ‘magical.’ It’s another perspective on Melbourne, on life. One that is authentic, though translated through the writer’s eyes. You could say the project has become less about humour, although I have concentrated on keeping it in there, and more about fear, more than I initially expected. And when I think about it I’m not surprised. We’ll see what you get. See you tonight.”

A Description of the North Melbourne Town Hall. A high-ceilinged, wood-floored, typical inner suburban town hall. Not quite a lecture theatre, not quite a stage. All the chairs are portable. The stage curtains are heavy and sea green. There is a kind of Juliet balcony jutting out from the back wall. Dips and cheap red are served at every interval. Thankfully there are no gym mats.

An interesting but mostly irrelevant tidbit about Michael Gow. His greatest fear is becoming an artistic dinosaur.

Ruth Bauer & Katia Molino in Hotel Obsino	Ruth Bauer & Katia Molino in Hotel Obsino
photo Angela Bailey
What the canary yellow photocopied flyer says about Hotel Obsino. Apparently Broinowski is confirming a “present day underclass of political zealots, junkies and assorted dispossessed souls” and has “taken these authentic voices and is interested in moving their stories beyond documentary into his own work of drama.”

What the canary yellow photocopied flyer says about what probably won’t be called Projections of Fear. “Fully integrating acrobatic and aerial work with a narrative”, Projections of Fear explores how “fear affects the way youth relate to society and how the city space informs these fears.”

Hotel Obsino. Filled with foul mouthed fuck-ups and presented in a series of vignettes, Hotel Obsino is dominated by religion, pornography, requests for cigarettes and a character called Nigel. Nigel moves through the work as a kind of initiate, progressing from wide-eyed novice to the point where he begins to take on the strange and wayward logic of the hotel.

More a portrait than a deconstruction, Broinowski pulls out some of the filthiest (and funniest) caricatures of various pieces of human flotsam you’re likely to see. The scariest thing is they were probably not caricatures at all.

The reading by Ruth Bauer, Katia Molino, Ross Thompson and Broinowski is loud, heavily accented and pretty damn good. Although Broinowski says that “the next draft will focus less on the words and more on the theatricality of the events in the play”, there’s already enough there to get your teeth into.

Projections of Fear. For the first half hour Michael Gow summarises the sad, pathetic tale of Country Boy and his unhappy (and sometimes imaginary) relationships with Hitch and Mr Muscle. Using physical confinement to symbolise the emotional and intellectual constraints imposed upon Country Boy by the city, Gow describes an attempt to act out acrobatically a very intellectual deconstruction of the role of society in shaping our personal phobias.

In the physical section of the performance, Country Boy is forced to board a vertical tram after his car breaks down by standing on Mineur’s shoulders. Hitch boards by standing on his. In a nice touch, the rope hanging from the ceiling has 3 real tram hand straps attached. He has elaborate fantasy sex on a photocopy machine and flees an enraged human-sized cockroach. All the while Mr Muscle attempts to protect him from the dangers of germs, bugs and contact with other human beings.

Heavy on the acrobatics and light on the dialogue, it’s a high-energy display of (mostly) non-verbal ideas, and it works. The tiny snippets of dialogue reinforce the acrobatics and better still, the acrobatics actually contribute to the story. Although the performance will likely change before it’s finished, there’s already a lot to be excited about.

A Post-Coital Moment. Afterward Broinowski complains that the audience didn’t talk about the content of the work. All the criticism and suggestion was aimed at the structure and form of the piece. I say maybe this is an extension of people’s fascination with process. Maybe because it’s a work-in-progress presentation the audience feels like it’s on the inside. They all think they’re editors. Fuck that, he says. Did they like it?

A bizarre objection recounted to me by a strange woman in a kaftan after Hotel Obsino. Apparently somebody had left the Town Hall with the following complaint: It just hadn’t been what they expected at all. They wanted a more obviously youth production, more verve, and apparently a much shoddier production. Quality and a decent story weren’t in keeping with the work of people under the age of 35. Apparently.

What You Should Take Away from this Article. There are 2 points I want to emphasise. One: The productions I saw were great pieces which just happened to be put together by young people, not young people’s work being sponsored merely because they were young. And two: There’s a long way to go to May 2000, but please try and remember.

Viviana Sacchero’s Innate Viviana Sacchero’s Innate
photo Angela Bailey
Clare Stewart: Innate and City Blood

This is the way the Concept-city functions; a place of transformations and appropriations, the object of various kinds of interference but also a subject that is constantly enriched by new attributes, it is simultaneously the machine and the hero of modernity.
Michel de Certeau, trans. Steven Rendell,
The Practice of Everyday Life University of California Press, 1984

Let me get this perpendicular: I am a grid girl. I choose a cartesian lifestyle because it satisfies certain fundamental requirements: it keeps me centred. At any point in time I can say “I know where I am”, which substitutes for “I know who I am.” Questions of identity have always disturbed me. A reference point—like map 1A, coordinates G7—is all people really need to think they know me. Leaving Melbourne’s CBD, I experience an immediate sense of vertigo. Taking the No. 57 seven stops to North Melbourne Town Hall for this series of works in progress makes me nervous, disoriented.

The city (its true name) is the topography of my imagination: I live its everydayness and love it as Ideal. In my laneway people dream, fuck, piss, die. People sleep and shoot-up in doorways. People watch each other watch TV. People design lofty visions for future cities. People give birth and bring up children. In my laneway buildings transform, house, leak and crumble. Buildings give surface on which the sounds of occupation and pleasure compete. Buildings block and reveal light. Buildings define the space I name ‘my laneway.’

In this city of people and buildings I am a pedestrian, a resident, a worker, a player—I move in the city and the city moves me. I am part of its machinery and it is my hero. I am part of its process and it is the result.

Viviana Sacchero and Carl Priestly share this sense of citizenship. It is manifest in Innate and City Blood, their respective works for inVISIBLE energies, the city in performance in development. Sacchero’s movement work and Priestly’s soundscape take ‘the City’ as material. They understand it as a physical space and an intellectual concept—they transform it into an object of study and a subject of representation. The city is not backdrop, it is not locale—it is the fabric of the work. Sacchero’s collaborative vision and Priestly’s individual noise do not mess with ideas of utopic or dystopic cities: they put forth clear, valid, interpretations of the city as it is experienced.

Viviana Sacchero’s Innate

“In approaching the curatorial brief of ‘the city’, I wanted to address the pervading sense of things ending—virally, atomically, philosophically…” Sacchero tells me. She is working with 10 movers aged 15 - 24. We are meeting while the work-in-progress is in its first stage of development. I ask her about the group’s perception of the city and she says: “I do not identify with this postmodern notion of ending. The young people on this project have their projections, memories and desires for the future. Dance culture and raves create a very exciting time for movement.

“Innate gives form to the city as a battery of design, icons and iconography and rhythm. It’s about the imprinting of culture, of thoughts and projections, walking, space, medic forms of communication, the ebb and flow of the city, and the idea that the city turns over.” Collaboration is central to the development of Innate. Sacchero worked previously with this youth ensemble on Distance for the 1998 Next Wave festival. Distance was itself a collaboration between Danceworks (director Sandra Parker) and Stompin Youth Dance Company (director Jerril Rechter). [RealTime 26 p. 8] Sacchero’s experience on that project as performer/facilitator led her to choose Jerril Rechter as navigator on this, her debut work as choreographer. She is careful in elucidating her position as a young person developing a piece with this ensemble: “I’m working with 10 young people. We are not participating in this project because of the semantics of youth arts, we are valid cultural participants.”

It is this idea of the ensemble as cultural participants, as citizens and artisans that motivated Sacchero to develop a piece through workshopping: her role as choreographer is to “cut and paste” the experience of the performers. The individuals in the group bring their own ideas of the city to the overall work: Fiona—the experience of the individual and the mass; Elise—the criminal underbelly; Damien and Kyle—the signposts of culture, graffiti; Kimberley—the shadows, the cyclical nature of light; Duncan—the architecture, the permanent edifices of culture; Jasna—the city defined by the interaction of its participants. Sacchero tells me: “their bodies are inscribed with the city and its forms. This document is relevant to the 10 bodies performing it—it does not matter where it is located, it belongs to those bodies.”

This sense of ownership is evident in rehearsal, and even moreso in the staged piece. These movers are not flawless, but they understand what their work is about: a very visible energy, an interpretation and structure that emerges from everydayness and that gives form to difference.

I see the huddle of transport in peak hour, the long shadows of the buildings as they stretch and fade in magic hour. I see the habitualised stamping and stowing of incidental objects. I see danger and pleasure. I see a city defined temporally, spatially. I see narrative in these bodies: the narrative of a lived day, of the strategies and tactics a body uses to negotiate the city. This is not some grand, totalising narrative—it is inclusive and provisionary. Innate makes me feel like moving through the streets of my city.

Carl Priestly with Philip Brophy, City Blood Carl Priestly with Philip Brophy, City Blood
photo Angela Bailey
Carl Priestly’s City Blood

The raw material of City Blood is gathered through pedestrian activity, through communing with real sounds. Priestly tells me: “the use of location recording and surround sound are very important choices. I wanted to capture sounds that would be sonically imprinted, that would activate memories—visual and spatial.” We are meeting toward the end of the first stage of development. I ask him about the importance of location to the staging of the sonic event, concerned about positioning the audience for a sound work. “I want to set up the piece so that sound will move left-right, forward-backward establishing the audience as a relative point, in the same way that an individual in a city is a relative point.
“City Blood configures the pattern of visiting, of arriving, travelling through and leaving a city. This is the pattern of young people, it is my experience of the city. It is experience through a filter: iconic sounds are transformed digitally into metaphoric sounds.” Priestly is a graduate of the Media Arts faculty at RMIT. Over his years at RMIT he has been influenced by his chosen navigator on City Blood, Philip Brophy. During that period, his work has gone through a transition from rock’n’roll to the musique concrète form that City Blood appropriates and reworks. “City Blood reflects on the ‘natural’ sounds of the city, which are not what might usually be considered ‘natural’…what I’m doing is kind of in opposition to new age stuff which takes natural sounds out of context and puts them in a sterile environment. I’m taking machine sounds and making them natural.”

We discuss the limited opportunities for presenting soundscapes, the barriers pushed in order to get work heard, and understood. It is important that City Blood is perceived as a sonic event. Although Priestly has finished recording, and almost finished the pre-performance mix by the time we meet, he points out that the work is not complete until the moment of the live mix. This is essential to the project: “The work takes the body as its central metaphor of the city, especially arteries. It attempts to transform city sounds into neurological information…it is important that City Blood capture the life energy of the city.” The performance enacts that life, that energy—a synchronicity of the pulse of the mix and the mixer, it defines the ‘eventfulness’ of the piece.

I hear the mediated babble of railway announcements, the lurch and blur of traffic momentum. I hear the fetishised hum of communication, the distortion of faxes and modems transferring information. I hear ritual, collision and fear. I hear the city insinuate itself: speak its functionality and its history. This is the expression of the city as a body: morphing and fluxing. This is the city so abstracted, it becomes readable, recognisable. City Blood makes me feel I am walking the streets of my city.

City limits: inVISIBLE energies debated

Innate and City Blood have been developed and presented in a very specific context. The City of Melbourne’s endorsement of Next Wave, its message to its constituency, is that projects of this kind “nurture a culture of contemporary ideas into the 21st Century, support the work of a new generation of artists and encourage young people to engage in the arts” (Cr. Peter Costigan, Lord Mayor, City of Melbourne, Next Wave 1999 program brochure). inVISIBLE energies is itself a political strategy, a component part of the metanarrative of urban and cultural planning. However, the complete project title—inVISIBLE energies the city in performance in development—has so many qualifiers, its position is rendered ambiguous. On the one hand, it wants to make visible the work of young and emerging artists (I take “inVISIBLE energies” to refer to both the idea of surfacing artists and to the subject of the works). On the other hand, it (the title and the project support material) polishes the semantics of youth arts with the rhetoric of the urban designer and practically apologises for the provisionary nature of work in development. It is my disposition to find this precautionary language irritating, to read it as an attempt to contain the participating artists within the boundaries of the project. The problematic nature of this contextualising mode was ardently addressed in the panel discussion, “The Ubiquitous Program Note and Other Working Dilemmas”, where artists, navigators and audience members passionately dissected the difficulties and benefits of developing and presenting material within this framework.

This is Next Wave’s historical (and perhaps, inherent) contradiction: it provides a solid infrastructure for the presentation of new work, an infrastructure designed precisely as a safe zone for young and emerging artists to push limits and test ideas. inVISIBLE energies takes this one step further, using Next Wave’s downtime to construct, and financially support, a space for the development of such works. Next Wave transforms this contradiction into something to live with. It allows practitioners to tactically employ the City’s strategy to their own end, secure in the knowledge that the City requires them in order to be able to celebrate its diversity, in order to be able to lay claim to the political by-line: Melbourne, City for the Arts.

This dynamic was further addressed in “City Views: Where We Live Today, How We Want to Live Tomorrow”, the first of the 2 panel discussions which took place over the 4 days of the presentations (putting North Melbourne Town Hall to good civic use). Fiona Whitworth, Project Officer for the City of Melbourne, put forth her view that council policy positions itself as a concerned guardian or parent, “containing young people and their use of the city.” She cited the CBD skate park as a key statement in the development of a “youth precinct”, the provision of a safe, but not sanitised, space for young people. This is a space (or ghetto) endorsed by urban planners and policy developers rather than everyday users. The small, but vocal, audience argued that skaters would always transform the obstacles designed to deter their activity in public spaces (stepping, benches, ridges etc) into props for new tricks and moves, that they would continue to use the city tactically, illicitly.

Let me get this straight: the act of skating, like walking, “affirms, suspects, tries out, transgresses, respects etc the trajectories it ‘speaks’ (Michel de Certeau)”. Skating and walking are urban tactics which appropriate and transform the space they traverse. Innate and City Blood use movement and sound to articulate the myriad of narratives these appropriations and transformations create. Sacchero and Priestly have actively, and creatively, protected (through representation) the concept of the city as a site of difference and diversity. They have employed the framework of inVISIBLE energies to develop performances which knowingly give form to the city as everyday and Ideal.

RealTime issue #31 June-July 1999 pg. 9

© Alex Hutchinson & Clare Stewart; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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