Festival Review: Malmö

by Jane

This review contains spoilers. 

Malmö is about the art of building a home.

Or, perhaps, the competitive sport of building a home.

An external reflection of ourselves, we are told; a 3D encapsulation of what makes you you.

For their Adelaide presentation of Malmö, Torque Show could not have found a better location. The old Waterside Wokers Hall, home to Vitalstatistix, is currently undergoing renovation of its own. Regular visitors to the space will notice differences to the space starting to take shape, and for those who aren’t familiar with the space, you only need to look up to see the paint switches left before the next round of renovations begins.

A show about renovations in a space which is being renovated: now, what was that saying about life and art?

Malmö is a pice of interactive dance theatre: adorning name tags, we are greeted familiarly by name by Vincent Crowley and Ingrid Weisfelt as we enter the space. Up off our stools we pick up our copy of MALMÖ: IDEAL LIFE – the lifestyle / decoration / interiors / art / architecture / entertaining / travel magazine – and we sit down.

Sound Designer and Composer Nick Roux’s music reverberates through the Hall, before dropping back to the boom box on the floor. Fluorescent lights (lighting design Chris Petridis) put the home on harsh display. At various times through the 80 minutes we are asked to pick up our stools and make our way through the space, our hosts moving us from room to room, asking us to refer to MALMÖ to see just how the space was captured through the lens of the photographer.  In our mind, the near empty hall space becomes home to a feature light, a picture window, a “wall of blondes.”  We’re in the Waterside Workers Hall, but we’re also in the couple’s home: the design team tease out the slightest details before they are coloured in by our minds.

There are two distinct strands to Malmö, created by Crowley and Weisfelt with director Ross Ganf. There is the borderline irrelevant, humourous home improvement angles: more often than not involving the audience as props or play things. Then there are the darker undertones, the more personal and less surface level emotions in the house build, most typically expressed through the dance.

The issue with these two strands is dramaturgically they fail to be brought together and make cohesive sense. I left the work feeling like I had seen half of each of two different and distinct shows, and wished I had seen all of either one.  As soon as we as an audience are engaging in one strand, being carried with our performers on their journey, we are dropped from that experience and into another.  For a piece of “dance theatre”, Malmö becomes very easy to break down: this section was dance, that section was theatre.

The work is most successful as a complete piece when it finds an interaction between the humour and the tension: building off the theatrical relationship with the audience, but expressing the tension which is present in much of the choreography. It is these moments, perhaps uncomfortable in their use of humour, which paint the fullest picture of these characters.  Yet again, these moments are too classifiable into “dance” and “theatre.”

In the “dance” camp, these strands come together wonderfully as Weisfelt takes the tools to Crowley: a jigsaw here, a buff there, and there you have it – a renovated man, the man you love, improved to fit perfectly for you. In the “theatre” camp, the partnership of humour and tension perhaps best demonstrated by the superficiality of home-improvement replicated in the superficiality of our home-improvers. Weisfelt talks about her love for Latino men, delving entirely into stereotype and tropes; Crowley selects out the blondes (including “those who identify as blonde”) to spend alone time with, creating a field of wheat, and then speaking to them in German.

There are theatrical strands explored through the work which are also left incompletely explained. Not least of all, the position of the child in the work and her relationship to the adults’ world she inhabits. Talking about the children’s bedroom, we are prompted to turn to page 17 of MALMÖ, where we read:

“Her name would have been Katrin…
I like how it sounds sophisticated. Euro.
I never liked my own name.
I think she’d like her room…”

This reads as a never-existence: a child un-conceived, or miscarried. In much of the piece the positioning of the child works to support this theory we conceive: she isn’t spoken about, she is put out into the rain of a wet Adelaide March. The final moments of the work, however, seeing the young girl fully recognised and accepted as a physical being in the space seem confused. She is now not only part of the world our couple occupies, but also part of the world the audience occupies, sitting down to a game of UNO which includes an member of the audience.  This created a moment that, rather than being a touching end, becomes a moment of confusion: how ‘real’ is this child?

The work is at its strongest in a dance of hurt and tension. Under muted specials, Crowley and Weisfelt participate in a deeply personal and almost private interaction, bodies simultaneously repelling but drawn to each other: tension in a relationship brought out in tension in a dance as the two intertwine and move over and out of each other lying across the wooden floor. As the young girl enters the literal fold, an element of danger is brought in. We’re no longer simply watching two trained adult dancers, but we’re watching a work of closeness; rather stunning in a way we never see one so young interacting in a work so intimately with an older couple.

It’s a pity we had to leave these moments and return to the overt audience participation humour. The show has so many strengths – so many complete images and commentaries on home improvements, on couples, on pressures of superficiality and “winning” at life.  Yet Malmö has failed to find what brings these together and we are left without a complete arc out of the images.

Vitalstaistix Theatre Company in association with Adelaide Festival presents Malmö by Torque Show. Creative Performers and Creators Vincent Crowley and Ingrid Weisfelt, Director and Creator Ross Ganf, Set Design Concept Geoff Cobham, Sound Designer and Composer Nick Roux, Lighting Designer Chris Petridis. At Waterside Workers Hall, 29/02/2012. Season Closed. 

This is Torque Show’s first work, the artists having the work first developed and presented by Arts House in Melbourne.  The company currently have two works in development: Farrugia with Vitalstatistix, and Riot commissioned by Tipping Point/Malthouse.  While Adelaide was home to Riot’s first development, and is now the resettled home to Torque Show director Ross Ganf, it will be interesting to see if any of Adelaide’s presenters, companies or funding bodies come on board with Riot, which is shaping up to be a major work for the company and for climate change focused cultural organisation Tipping Point.

It’s intriguing to look at the very strong overlap between theatre and dance in this year’s Festival: some works which are classified as “dance theatre”, and some which simply blur the boundaries.  Malmö joins Never Did Me Any Harm and Bloodland, both of which, interestingly, started their lives at Sydney Theatre Company (in co-productions with Force Majeure and Bangarra Dance Theatre, respectively). Also in the program is the physical theatre work Raoul (James Thiérrée) and dance piece Gardenia (Les Ballets C de la B), which, with its use of non-dancers sits in an interesting junction between what is “dance” and what is simply “performance.”

These of course sit within a program of more clearly defined “dance” and “theatre” works, but I’m greatly enjoying this look at the blurring of art form boundaries which is taking place and these pieces sitting together on our festival calendar – particularly as Adelaide doesn’t currently have a culture of dance theatre creation which is becoming quite a large component of the theatrical conversation in Sydney in Melbourne.