Fringe Review: seven kilometres north-east

by Jane

The concept of falling in love with a place is an interesting one. A connection to a land or a people, or just that city down the road, which comes as a beautiful and unexpected thing. Love of a person, I think, is easier to intellectualise, easier to convey. It’s always expected that people we fall in love with will be met, are still to be met, while place is a less emphatic thing: it’s expected we’ll posses a connection to a place you grew up, or a place where your family comes from. What is it about a place that can be so taking?

Kym Vercoe, the devisor and performer of seven kilometres north-east found herself taken by Bosnia, and here we are invited in on her bright and happy exploration.

Vercoe is generous of heart, spirit, and performance.  We quickly make friends with this character as she shares with her audience jokes and knowing glances. We follow her through her heartfelt love for Bosnia, before following her through her heartbreak as, half-a-generation after their occurrence, Vercoe is second-hand witnesses to an unimaginable, insurmountable tragedy of the Bosnian War befallen on the people of a land she has loved.

How do we face a reality so awful? How connected are we to people of a place we love, or loved? When these people are no longer living, have not lived for many years, their people not a part of the landscape ever since? How much are we as women, connected to all women?

Most of our line of view is filled with a large screen, images Vercoe captured on her trips: her first camera, $200 off ebay.  There is a freeing stillness in Vercoe’s videography and the editing work of video artist Sean Bacon, capturing moments of quiet and of space.

The advent of digital technology has allowed documentation of much more than the “big events”: every moment can become an event. When we witness something, experience something new, there is little easier now than whipping out the camera: point and shoot, recorded for prosperity, recorded to let the world know I was there.

A moment to be captured shared – fingers quickly flick over the phone or ipad, the mouse skirts its way through the facebook album: My Melbourne Trip. Day Two. 168 Photographs.

The event is now many events, but they are sparse: important in quantity, not in quality. Look at all the places I have been! Look at all the sights I have experienced! Isn’t your life better now you know how fast I move?

But from the footage we are shown of Vercoe’s work, she has captured not the hustle and bustle, but the stillness. More passive, perhaps: point the camera, press record, sit. Stay still on a frame, on a place. On a moment not to be scrolled by to view the next image. On the small shake of a tripod-less camera. On waiting to be surprised by a duck.

Through this stillness, Vercoe is more a study of her place than a million shots and angles. She breathes in the stillness, and in it we sit.

This stillness is paired with moments of high-energy: a frustrated, manic pace across the stage as Vercoe becomes suspicious of every man she meets; or three minutes and twenty-one seconds of release, of happiness.

Always, in the still and in the noise, Vercoe exudes her own energy. An Australian girl travelling and growing on subsequent trips to Bosnia. Falling in and out of and in love with a country, a place, a people.

The rest of the set is sparse, a small bookshelf, two small plinths. Vercoe pulls out travel books, beer, a small collection of items and a small burner to make a small cup of coffee, which she shares with me.

Much of seven kilometres north-east is about ritual and repetition. Vercoe repeatedly returning to the Balkans; the bridge which has stood for hundreds of years, and will stand for hundreds still; the process of making a Bosnian coffee. We consider what rituals and moments of our past are carried on, traditions formed or celebrated, and then what terrible parts are hidden and ignored?

seven kilometres north-east is awful, and heart-breaking, and beautiful, and delicate. We left the theatre with our hands on our faces. We tried to talk about what we had just seen, but we couldn’t. Not really. The gaps between our words were too big. The gaps between our worlds were too big. We felt like we had experienced something huge, but we hadn’t. Not really.  Just the edges of a blur of it. The tiniest peak into something we will never comprehend.

There are many more words to say: of the live singing, of counting flowers, of dancing, of coffee cups, of mundane requests to come out of massacres as they interfere with hydroelectric plants, of ground coffee, of lightness and of darkness. But I don’t have these words.

Even now as I sit and I write, I open Wikipedia to look up the Bosnian War and my hand goes to my face. It’s too much. seven kilometres north-east is in this way unflinching. It’s hard. I suspect it will be sitting with us, hard, for a long time. But it’s hard in the way that perhaps the best theatre is hard. It’s a satisfying difficulty. We should know about these things, we should hear about these things, Vercoe should share these things. And when it is shared through a wonderful piece of art, we get to see something wonderful, even if it is to hear something awful.

Version 1.0 Presents seven kilometers north-east devised and performed by Kym Vercoe. Video artist Sean Bacon, dramaturgy Deborah Pollard, musical director and singer Slajana Hodžić, original lighting design Emma Lockheart-Wilson, associate lighting designer/realiser Christopher Page, set and prop construction Erth Visual and Physical Inc. At AC Arts Main Theatre with the Adelaide Fringe, until 4/3/12. More information and tickets.