MIAF Diary #3: Carnival of Mysteries, Come, Been and Gone, Thomas Adès and the Calder Quartet ~ theatre notes

Thursday, October 14, 2010

MIAF Diary #3: Carnival of Mysteries, Come, Been and Gone, Thomas Adès and the Calder Quartet

Ms TN is still standing: but I was grateful for a couple of nights home early this week. I'm not complaining - don't get me wrong - but I'm not really built for mass cultural consumption: I can only absorb so much and write so many hundreds of words before the cerebellum begins to feel like sticky porridge. I'm a one-on-one, contemplative kind of gal. Still, I love festival time.

After the first week, I'm getting a feel of MIAF 2010, my first experience of Brett Sheehy's festival direction. It's difficult not to look nostalgically back to Kristy Edmunds's four years, which really put some electricity into this city: so far I'm having a pleasant but not a delirious festival experience. Most of all, I'm missing the palpable sense of furious conversation, of excited debate and stimulating difference. It feels decentred: perhaps because we lack the democratically open-to-everyone artist's bar, which provided a conversational hub and meeting place that didn't cost an arm and a leg. And also, maybe, the Spiegeltent, which seemed like an instant tradition (although tent fans will be glad to know that it's coming back in February). As for my Fab Tally: half way through, it's working at around 50 per cent. I'm hoping that percentage will lift by the end of the week.

Before I move on to brief discussions on the last of the shows I saw in last week's avalanche, a couple of diary notes. I saw Jack Charles V. The Crown on Tuesday night, and will report further on this next week, after the Australian publishes my review: suffice to say, it is a crowd-pleaser. Tonight is the premiere of Daniel Keene's Life Without Me at the MTC, which I will be attending as Mrs Keene, relieved (and how nice that is) of the responsibility to write anything. Tomorrow I'm off to see The Beckett Trilogy, and Saturday it's dance again with Adapting for Distortion and Haptic. And then we whirl into Week Number Three.

But back to some final notes on Week #1. One of my festival highlights is the wild and wicked Carnival of Mysteries at Fortyfive Downstairs. It's the most extravagant so far of Moira Finucane and Jackie Smith's explorations of burlesque, which are providing increasingly immersive experiences that they call "intimate spectacle". I last saw them taking over La Mama with the sensory overload of their Triple Bill of Wild Delight: and what a blast that was. Those who saw that show will have an approximate idea of what to expect in Carnival of Mysteries: extravagantly staged passion, perverse and liberating sensual delight, sly comedy, nudity, and excess, excess and more excess. And dancing.

That's what happens at Fortyfive Downstairs, only more so. When you arrive, you are given $30,000 in carnival money and a program, and then you are simply taken down stairs and let loose in the space. It's set up as as a fairground, with miscellaneous tents painted in circus colours and sumptuously undressed performers spruiking their shows. There's a central area with a bar and cabaret tables, where you can take some time out with a wicked cocktail and play noughts and crosses; otherwise, you pays your money and you takes your chances. It's a show where you make your own narrative, so everyone's experience will be different.

I heard there were altogether about 30 acts. We saw around ten, I guess, in the almost two hours we spent there. They ranged from the Garcon Gigolo (the incomparable Brian Lucas), who got nude and personal, to Carolyn Connors's performance of Erik Satie in the Shrine, to Moira Finucane's idiosyncratic portrayal of a Librarian (needless to say, not like any Librarian I've ever seen, although it's a welcome reminder of the perverse eroticism of literary endeavour). Every now and then the crowd would gather in the general area for a "free" act: Finucane again in huge metallic wings, declaiming that "revenge is a dish best eaten... frequently", or Azaria Universe shoving fairyfloss in her bra, and eating it, or a jaw-dropping performance of Billie Holiday songs by the wondrous Lois Olney, in which "everyone and I stopped breathing".

It's basically a glorious party. Funny, beautiful, unexpectedly touching and enormously enjoyable. Go with someone you love.

Carnival of Mysteries held all the perilous desire that was lacking in come, been and gone, the Michael Clark Company's opening night offering at the State Theatre. The evening begins with Swamp, a 20-year-old piece to music by Bruce Gilbert & Wire that was recently revived by the Rambert Dance Company. The costumes have a comic book feel - blue skintight lycra, with black eye masks - that is accentuated by the simple lighting, a bar of light slowly moving across the back of the stage.

In its angular purity, Swamp recalls the classical lines of Merce Cunningham; indeed, for much of the dance, I was contemplating the chilly discipline of the dancers and wondering if that - compelling in itself - was truly enough. Yet towards the end of the dance, the slow steely spring of the choreography suddenly lets go in an exhilarating finale, a sudden and surprising release of energy that generates a rush of feeling. Although the choreography feels dated, it was so exactly and confidently itself that this ended up being my favourite piece of the night.

After that, it was all downhill for me. There followed a series of dances set to music by The Velvet Underground, the most successful of which was probably Venus in Furs, which gave us some startling stage imagery - a dancer crouched midair, totally still, suspended by wires that drew him across the stage, Venus herself exposed as her furs fly up into the air. Heroin featured probably the naffest costume of the night, a skin-coloured body suit out of which were sticking a couple of dozen syringes (wtf?) And speaking of naff, there was a half-hearted 10-second flash of projected Pop Art (big bright fonts screaming ANAL! BANAL!) which hardly seemed worth the effort.

The third part of the evening, come and come again, was mainly choreographed to David Bowie: and here it became clear that rock and roll just doesn't do en point. I preferred by far the Kraftwerk piece, Hall of Mirrors, for here the music has sufficient abstraction to support the dance without it looking fey. For the most part, the Bowie choreography seemed all about taking the sex out of rock and roll: lots of surface style and bright cossies, and a serious lack of grunt.

Dancers running onto stage on tippy toes just got more and more absurd the rockier the music became: glam rock might be camp, but that doesn't mean it's prissy. The most puzzling - because the most exposing - decision of the night was to project the video clip of Bowie singing Heroes hugely behind the dancers. It reminded me that as a 15 year old fangirl, I was absolutely correct: Bowie was a god. It was impossible to watch anything except him, let alone take any notice of the dancers. Who were, it must be said, absolutely superb in their precision and discipline: but by the end of the night, I had answered my own question. It really isn't enough.

A little virtuosity never goes astray, however, as Thomas Adès demonstrated in his concert with the Calder Quartet at the Melbourne Recital Centre. The beautifully balanced program was an excellent introduction to this composer, who was unfamiliar to me. It presented a range of work, opening with the lushly romantic strings of Arcadiana, played by the quartet, and then continuing to two piano solos played by Adès - Darkness Visible, an intricate and delicately felt work written when he was a student, and Three Mazurkas, composed last year. Both skin tingling performances.

Adès's work was contextualised by three piano works by Stravinsky, including the bizarrely fun Piano-Rag-Music which is, as Adès said, "cubist rag", and the highly technical Three Canons for URSULA by the American composer Conlon Nancarrow, a composer who mainly wrote for pianolas, and which maybe appeals more to those musically literate people who can follow the argument of the music, which - despite Adès's lucid introductions to each work - I could not. For the finale, the quartet returned and performed with Adès, playing his exhilarating Piano Quintet.

Adès is a riveting, even charismatic performer: it is as if, from the moment he begins to play, his entire being, body, mind and soul, is possessed by the music. You can't stop looking at his continuously expressive hands. He is also a particularly charming host. Given that I am hardly deeply literate in music, an enthusiastic rather than an informed listener, I wish that every concert I went to could be introduced with the diffident and courteous friendliness with which he explained the formal principles behind the works he played. A wholly enjoyable evening.

Pictures: Top: Carnival of Mysteries crew. Photo: Jodie Hutchinson. Middle: Come, been and gone. Photo: Clair Thomas. Bottom: Thomas Adès. Photo: Maurice Foxall

Carnival of Mysteries, created and directed by Moira Finucane and Jackie Smith. Designed by The Sisters Hayes, costume design by Doyle Barrow, sound design by Adam Hunt, lighting design by Lin Tobias. With various artists. Fortyfive Downstairs until October 30.

come, been and gone, choreographed by Michael Clark. Compsers: David Bowie, Brian Eno, Bruce Gilbert & Wire, Kraftwerk, Lour Reed. Lighting design by Charles Atlas, costumes by Stevie Stewart, Richard Torry and Michael Clark. Danced by Harry Alexander, Kate Coyne, Melissa Hetherington, Brooke Smiley, Benjamin Warbis and Simon Williams. State Theatre, Victorian Arts Centre. Closed.

Thomas Adès & Calder Quartet. Piano, Thomas Adès; violin Andrew Bulbrook and Benjamin Jacobson; viola Jonathnan Maerschel and cello Eric Byers. Melbourne Recital Centre, October 11.


Anonymous said...

yeah it's kinda hard to know the festival is even on. I don't know whether it's the absence of anything really public, or the signage or what. I mean I've had a look for the lighting that was supposed to be illuminating the St Kilda Rd/Southbank precinct, but apart from the standard little lights in the trees on the promenade and the presence of some very poorly framed projections onto the Flinders Street station facade and Fed Square, there doesn't seem to be much to warrant much excitement.

Is it just me, or does this festival feel safe and boring and lacklustre and are they trying to save money or something?

Am I looking in the wrong spots?

I mean Spiegeltent is way way suburban beer tent (and see you later please for good on that one) and the Callum Morton Valhalla piece last year was a great work in a terrible spot, but what is there in that place this year? Some arch that doesn't seem to have much to do with anything, all it seems to be doing is sitting there... Curve Bar has an outdoor marquee thing going on...the times I've cruised past dead and boring :(

So perhaps my pick of the PUBLIC SHOW OF ARTS FESTIVAL FOR WHICH THIS CITY IS RIGHTLY FAMED has to go to the installation on the side court of ACCA where a big illuminated sign on a frame, reads: Heaven is where nothing happens.

makes me think of this years Melbourne Festival.

am I being unkind?

Alison Croggon said...

I like that installation. You can see it from the West Gate Bridge.

The fact is, there's good stuff on. But I'll wait until the end of this week before I make any generalised judgements. I agree that the public side of things seems muted: am I wrong in thinking this is a more interior, privatised festival? Or is it just the arctic weather? Thinking way back, say, to John Truscott's marvellous public flourishes, a fairground (remember Botanica?) which attracted thousands of punters.

the scorpion said...

Is this the lighting special they've paid probably as little as possible to try and make into something?


If that's what's called free, then I think I'd rather try for a cup of soup from the vans on Flinders Street each night... hmmm, arts festival versus plight of the homeless... less money for lighting couldn't be more obvious if it tried.

The sign actually reads Heaven is a place where nothing ever happens, and that is what you get when you focus the cash specifically on something.

Tell me, where is the mood to this festival? The word festival may as well be changed to 'the grouping of stuff if you look hard enough'.

I'm not saying it has to be loud and garish (not Moomba and not a drunk fest of stuff), but surely one of the remits of this sort of event has to be the way it captures the imagination?

Budget? Shut your face on budget. It has nothing to do with budget. It has to have something to do with bringing the city on board.

That does not mean you have posters in cases at Flinders Street that say such ridiculuous types of things as 'thanks for something or other and the melbourne festival' when all this is really doing is promoting JC Decaux.

I mean, corporate partnerships are one thing, but if they don't actually produce anything of merit (apart from obscure advertising which just supports the corporate) then they are actually worth less than the crap they are agreed on paper on.

This festival this morning is making me pissed. Oh, and the Becks Festival Bar? Notice the branding. Thanks alcohol fuelled violence, just go to the festival bar and drink and then we can spend more money trying to arrest the drunks and the vagabonds.

Dont forget public perception in all this you high brow wankers, if you do, you will leave it to the following festivals to try and make amends.

And note to melbourne festival board, if you run scared from idiots like Usher and this conservative thing, then you run scared from the very thing the arts has to be. That is the thing that Kennnett tried to stifle (remember the roadwork sidings outside the VCA during his reign anyone?).

Enough from me, have a good festival everyone, if it's possible.

And don't blame the weather, to do so would be to just not get it. Hmmm, starting to sound familiar really isn't it?