Weekend two of Fringe World and Summer Nights 2016 is upon us, and our Friday night pairing comes in the form of contemporary dance offering Awkward Con-nections and the almost indefinable theatre piece by MKA and Mark Wilson, Unsex Me.
Last year, Rikki Bremner choreographed a 10-minute piece in The Blue Room’s 600 Seconds called It’s strange to remember a touch over a thought. For many, it was a stand-out amongst the lineup, so its no wonder that she’s leap-frogged from that into a longer piece for Summer Nights. This year she’s gathered more collaborators and colleagues for a double bill of dance pieces called Awkward Con-nections.
The first piece on the bill is It’s Getting Awkward by Trihedral Sector, featuring Sarah Chaffey, Scott Elstermann and Ezgi Gungor. Gungor opens the piece by staring at the audience for several minutes until breaking into a somewhat forced, but nevertheless beaming smile. There are audience snickers, quiet shuffling and shifting, but we are held there, awkwardly and patiently awaiting her next move. Suddenly behind her, a voice speaks. It’s Sarah Chaffey, standing next to Scott Elstermann, up against the back wall with their backs to the audience. Chaffey starts to hem and haw about nothing in particular, “so you know, we…could….just….you know…? I, uh…thought…you know, the thing?” and so on and so forth, while Gungor mouths along, becoming the ventriloquist’s dummy. They erupt into maniacal laughter, and at last, the tension is broken by a light change and a sound cue, and suddenly we’re in a night club. Not an obvious one, but one where everyone’s awkward and can’t connect, but the music is really great and the dance moves are way better than your average clubgoer’s.
Slowly the dancers begin to connect, first in pairs, and then finally, all three dancers’ arms are locked together. They move in a twisting triangle, undulating around the space with linked arms, lifting and contorting like human spaghetti. In the end, Gungor and Elstermann advance in slow motion towards each other in one last awkward greeting that starts out looking like a handshake, but that ends up being an intimate embrace. It’s fascinating to see how the one transforms into the other.
The second piece, How to Con-nect, is choreographed and performed by Rikki Bremner along with Scott Elstermann, Natalie Kolobaric and Russell Thorpe. Bremner and Elstermann open with a bit of mirroring, which is made even more effective since these two share a lot of the same physical attributes. Then Kolobaric and Thorpe join the stage, grappling with each other on the ground to the point where we hope they don’t hurt each other. A stand-out sequence from this piece is when Bremner and Kolobaric strip down to their underwear and don floppy black hats, a low side-light fades up, and they slink into a cool bridging interlude. Their faces are mostly obscured by their hats, so we see mostly lanky limbs at work, for a surreal effect.
As with many contemporary dance pieces the music comes to the fore, and Dane Yates‘s compositions and beats are a gorgeous treat for the ears. Awkward Con-nections anything but awkward – it’s a solid, confident work that shows off the great ideas and talent to be found in Perth’s contemporary dance sector.
This show’s reputation precedes it. There has been a lot of anticipation, excitement and buzz about it in the independent sector, describing it as “life-changing.”
I can understand the sentiment, even if I can’t join in; Unsex Me will shake you up in one way or another. Mark Wilson has created something confronting, challenging, unnerving. You will squirm in your seat, laugh uncomfortably, groan, possibly cry. You may want to hide your eyes. You may want to walk out. And while this sounds like a reason to avoid this piece at all costs, don’t. DO go see it.
What you will see is a man in drag, giving you a character fantasy about being an Academy Award-winning actress. She is about to begin filming the role of a lifetime, Lady Macbeth, directed by her famous film director father. It’s all camp and satire for the first 20 minutes, and for a bit you think you might be watching a spiegeltent cabaret act in some other part of Fringe World, complete with audience participation from a good-natured, but slightly reluctant bloke.
But soon Wilson rips away that illusion. Things get really dark. But the audience can’t give up its need to laugh, and indeed Wilson’s contorted expressions and exaggerated explosions do seem to call for it. Then Wilson walks to the edge of a precipice, and without hesitation or warning, he jumps right off. We’re ushered into places we’re really not used to going in public. Eventually, he weaves the character fantasy in with an analysis of Lady Macbeth that makes us think about symbolism and storytelling in a patriarchal context. Wilson’s final act is to force a paradigm shift, removing Lady Macbeth’s demise from an ancillary effect of Macbeth’s story, and instead demanding that we see it as its own harrowing female tragedy.
So many times, theatre-makers take us to the edge, then hint and allude to what would happen if they jumped, but never actually go through with it. I often wonder what would happen if theatre-makers in Perth began to make really dangerous theatre, theatre that risks alienating some people and shaking others out of their comfortable stupor. Theatre that incites as much as it inspires. Theatre that mixes agenda with artfulness, firmly, blatantly, without apology, without irony, without backpedaling so that we doubt its sincerity. Theatre of resistance, rebellion and rawness. Theatre without a parachute.
This is what Unsex Me is.
Both shows have closed over the weekend, but follow MKA for more: http://mka.org.au/