MIAF: Two Faced Bastard, Interpreti Veneziani Baroque Ensemble ~ theatre notes

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

MIAF: Two Faced Bastard, Interpreti Veneziani Baroque Ensemble

Festival Diary #4: Sunday and Tuesday

Two Faced Bastard, directed and choreographed by Gideon Obarzanek and Lucy Guerin. Set design by Ralph Myers, lighting design by Philip Lethlean, costume design by Paula Levis, composition by Darrin Verhagen, sound design Russell Goldsmith. With Vincent Crowley, Antony Hamilton, Michelle Heaven, Stephanie Lake, Brian Lipson, Byron Perry and Lee Serle. Chunky Move @ North Melbourne Meat Market.

Interpreti Veneziani Baroque Ensemble, Program 2 (Arcangelo Corelli, Antonio Vivaldi, Giovanni Paisiello and Felix Mendelssohn). BMW Edge.

Peter Brook once said that contrast was the essence of theatre. If that's the case - and I believe it is - then I've had a markedly theatrical festival so far. The past few days have seen Ms TN negotiating a bit of a rollercoaster. There was the thrill of seeing some masterly artists at work - Reinbert de Leeuw and the Schönberg Ensemble, the dancers of Batsheva, the musicians of Elision - mixed with some major disappointment. There was the ecstatic shamanism of Patti Smith, which is probably more than enough for one weekend on its own.

And then on Sunday I collided with Back to Back's Food Court (of which more tomorrow - the exigencies of reviewing for the Australian mean that I have had to delay discussing it here). It's no exaggeration to say that show left me emotionally shattered. And it felt plain wrong to scramble off immediately to see something else, like a rabid consumer tossing one disposable experience aside for the next sensation.

Frankly, any show after Back to Back was facing a major challenge in what was left of the Croggon psyche. Fortunately, my guardian muses led me to the playful intelligence of Chunky Move's Two Faced Bastard, which was somehow the perfect complementary experience to what I had just seen. For one thing, it couldn't have been more different, while at the same time it kept me on an aesthetic high.

A major part of Chunky Move's practice has been the exploration of what it means to perform in front of an audience, and how the configuration of a space determines that relationship. Restlessly experimental, they've explored a dizzying range of permutations of staging and process. Two Faced Bastard brings this subtext to the fore, dividing the audience in two across a traverse stage which is split by vertical blinds.

Gideon Obarzanek and Lucy Guerin have effectively devised two shows for two audiences, with each uneasily aware that something else is going on behind the blinds. Roughly speaking, one side of the blind focuses on language, while the other side is dance, although each invade and question the other, making such divisions ambiguous. It's a show that riskily places frustration and curiosity at the core of its experience, and exposes the duality of performance itself, the unease and distrust sparked by the persona of a performer, who is, after all, pretending to be someone else. Or perhaps not.

The performers include actor Brian Lipson, as well as Chunky Move's core dancers and actor/dancer Vincent Crowley. All of them play themselves and refer to each other by name, although what that identity means in performance is always up for grabs. On my side, the show began with an exquisite solo by Stephanie Lake backed by a minimal sound score, while the unseen performers appeared to be in some kind of collegial forum where Lipson, as ringmaster, was exploring why they chose their vocation and whether it was worth doing. Their dialogue was always audible to us, just as the swaying vertical blinds provided tantalising and often mysterious glimpses of what was happening on the other side.

The solo expanded into a group piece as dancers slipped through the blinds and joined in. And then Lipson's face peeked through, reporting on our behaviour to the other audience. The division broke down further when Lipson came over to the dark side and began to interview the dancers, who politely took the microphone and attempted to answer his questions as they executed some pretty difficult moves. The banality of explanation and the limitations of spoken language became comically alive.

As the show evolved it became more and more anarchic, although you were always aware that this chaos was precisely choreographed. Vincent is teased for his preference for Stephanie, a flirtation that results in a beautifully erotic entanglement with a table. The increasing disorder culminates in a deliriously funny moment where the dancers, having dressed themselves in absurd mediaeval armour made out of cardboard boxes and styrofoam, invade the talkers. When the curtains stopped swaying, we could only hear the laughter of the audience and the sounds of manic styrofoam destruction. On our side, Antony Hamilton performed a comic solo that emerged from a very clever moment of self-consciousness: watched intently by three performers sitting at a table, he is urged to dance. But the outbreaks of mysterious laughter on the other side of the curtain initially disable him: are they laughing at him? If so, why?

At another point the show was stopped altogether and the audience was asked if they would like to swap sides. A lot of people did, although I was quite happy where I was, and sat stubbornly clutching my handbag, refusing the inner siren call that claims other pastures are greener.

The blinds are lifted for the final few minutes, revealing mysterious landscapes: neither side of the audience has any idea how the performers or objects on stage came to be where they are. At the moment of revelation the dancers are in a diagonal line bisecting the whole stage, which is strangely moving: there's a sudden understanding of wholeness and binding where before all has been division. And the final word is left to dance.

It's an exhilarating show, featuring some fine clowning, but its intelligence ensures it never becomes merely clever or flippant. The divided stage is a cumulatively compelling metaphor for the workings of consciousness, an enactment of how the mind hides from itself, providing only fragmented glimpses of its inner workings.

Similarly, the Interpreti Veneziani Baroque Ensemble provided some delicious moments of lightness on Tuesday. I always feel a bit of a fraud writing about music; however enthusiastic an audient, I have little technical understanding and some appalling gaps in my musical knowledge. But I know good performers when I see them.

This was a beautiful concert, perfectly framed by the glass amphitheatre of the BMW Edge, where the twilit sky gradually darkened behind the ensemble. They played a selection of baroque concertos from Antonio Vivaldi and Arcangelo Corelli and a later piece by Giovanni Paisiello with verve and exuberance. Paolo Cognolato's piano solo in the latter work was a highlight in a performance that reached well beyond the virtuosic.

The concert finished with a magnificent performance of Felix Mendelssohn's Concerto in D Minor for violin and strings, with a passionate solo by Guiliano Fontanella. After the intricate formality of the court music, Mendelssohn's Romantic expressiveness took glorious flight. (Then came four encores - the only name I caught there was Vivaldi, but one involved two soloists plucking their violins like banjos).

Aside from being formidable musicians, the ensemble is irresistible to watch. Each performer plays with a vitality and intensity that is infused by what I can only think of as sparkle, a contagious joy in the music that is expressed in their entire bodies and in the suppleness and ease with which they play together. This was music as absolute pleasure, a feast for the ear and eye.

Photo: Stephanie Lake, Vincent Crowley and Brian Lipson in Two Faced Bastard.


Chris Boyd said...

So... two friends go to a brothel, pay the same amount of money... one gets to have sex, the other gets to listen to the friend having sex. That's what it was like on the wrong side of the curtain.

I go to a dance performance -- remember dance? The performing art that reminds me why we have performing arts? A dance performance with Stephanie Lake in it... and some sadistic bastard decides that I can be teased with the fact that she's working up a sweat on the other side of the arras. No offence Brian Lipson, but there's metal more attractive.

Dead for a ducat.

After 45 minutes, three quarters of the fucking show, we're all invited to swap sides. I almost didn't. After all, the sadist -- God is a rugby playing bastard (Day in the Death of Joe Egg that's from, isn't it?) -- might decide to put Steph on the other side just to piss me off, right?

I very much doubt I'll sufficiently recover from my fury to have anything at all to say about this show. Grrrrrrrrrrr. Except that in an arm wrestle, dance will whip theatre's arse nice times out of ten. Grrrrrrrrrrr.

CB (between shows)

Anonymous said...

I think Lucy and Gideon would be rapt with your response, Chris. I think frustration was entirely the point, and I frankly disagree that we missed out.

(And who, by the way, said it was a dance performance - or at least, strictly a dance performance? It appears in the program as both theatre and dance. Didn't you know going in which path to take if you wanted to see dance? I certainly did: everyone was whispering it to each other in the foyer.)

Alison Croggon said...

You grumpy bum Chris. I think Brian Lipson is always worth watching!

Anonymous said...

I haven't been able to get a ticket...but did get one for Sunstruck...and quite frankly, the only ticket in the whole festival worth having.

Helen Herbertson is a genius.

No ifs, no buts, no criticism countenanced. At the peak of her game, and yes, perhaps there is something in the way her performers could be more, well, more like her...or perhaps she could work on them a bit more, or something, but really, what an artist, what a sensation, what a forty minutes.


PS: and if one more person tells me they wish they knew what it was about, I will kill them. Seriously. I will kill them.