No Plain Jane

Theatre reviews and musings (mostly) from Adelaide

Category: Next Wave Festival

Next Wave 2014

In 2012, I attended the Next Wave Festival as a mentee with their Text Camp program for emerging arts writers and critics. It was incredibly special to return to their 2014 festival as a critic with Guardian Australia. The art and the people and the ideas of the past two weeks have left me feeling invigorated and excited, and my perceptions on the world are a little bit shifted. I may write up broader thoughts about the festival at a later date – after a few days off for recovery – but for now, here are the reviews I wrote over the past two weeks.

Wael Zuaiter: Unknown review – compelling story of an assassination

 Placing this audio work in front of an audience returns radio to a stage of shared experience that has largely been lost as we now listen to the radio and podcasts alone in cars or through headphones on public transport. Here, you feel the collective lean of the audience into Cox’s storytelling; a joke or a detail only fully appreciated by one audience member is highlighted as their laugh carries through the theatre. But in this live form, things are lost, too, and I can’t do what I love to do with a complex podcast that grabs my heart and my mind: press replay, and listen to it all again.

Madonna Arms review – feminist sci-fi parable misfires

A plethora of pop culture references – everything from Alien to Sarah Murdoch miss-announcing the winner of Australia’s Next Top Model – begin to feel exclusionary. If they go over your head, can you truly engage with the work? And when you don’t recognise something as a direct allusion, is that because it is unique to the text of Madonna Arms or is it yet another reference you don’t get?

SEETHrough review: unfocused portrayal of masculinity in crisis

SEETHrough plays with interesting ideas of an unrealised intimacy between men, framed by violence for fear of true physical closeness, and it has all the elements to create a strong work. Co-devised by Kinchela and Walters and directed by Isaac Drandic, the work fluctuates between staged poetry, a play and physical theatre. Unfortunately, none of these performance genres are explored with sufficient strength, and the themes of the work become lost.

Maximum review: two performers push themselves to exhaustion

Maximum isn’t dance which hides the physical toll on the body in the search for illusionary effortlessness. Instead, the toll is the point: the haggard breaths, sweating foreheads, shaking thighs. We see bodies pushed to the limits when we watch sport – and we may even push our own bodies there – but when we watch athletes we’re watching for their achievement and their completion of the task at hand: exhaustion is a symptom but not the goal.

The Club 3.0 review: theatre troupe tries to get audience to fight each other

I didn’t leave The Club 3.0 inspired. I don’t feel a need to fight to acknowledge the fact that one day I’m going to die. I don’t regret not choosing to get in a fight during the show. The artists didn’t earn the right to motivate me in change, or questioning, or action. Instead, I left dejected. If two young men want to set up a fight club with their friends, that’s one thing. To think the story of it makes an interesting stage work is another.

Hex review: the Aids crisis revisited through dance

Hex is a largely allegorical work, Welsby keen to explore and contextualise emotions rather than directly tell a story of the crisis. In this, he builds small worlds that are at times sad and at times joyous, often bringing up ambiguous emotions in their complex and painful story. His choreography is a tribute to those who have been lost, but also a celebration of the community they shaped, and which continues to grow. It is a powerful work.

White Face review: dance exploration of Indigenous identity

Slowly, Sheppard’s text shifts and this parody of perceptions of entitlement, and of choosing to identify as an Indigenous person for personal gain, turns into something more complex. She veers away from the satire as her character begins to realise the lineage and cultural knowledge she has lost: an experience and a pain that continues to be shared by many in Australia’s stolen generations. This tonal shift leaves a lot of room to be further developed, its intricacies explored, but in this short monologue Sheppard presents a very interesting voice.


On my Shotgun Wedding


“I hope you don’t think I’m going to stop reviewing your work”, I said in my speech at our reception in East Melbourne’s St Peter’s Church. “Harshness is a cornerstone of marriage.”

To my left sat my new husband, playwright Anthony. In front of us in the church hall was everyone who had come out on that blustery Melbourne autumn day to see us married. I was probably half a bottle of champagne in, buoyed by nerves, and impressed with my ability to make a joke. Still, given the chance I scurried back to my seat to again giggle with my maid-of-honour Naomi and have another glass of champagne.

I was giddy. It’s the only word for it. I held a manic grin on my face all afternoon. All of these people had come out to celebrate us! There was so much joy in the air, I was wearing a beautiful dress, my nails were freshly painted navy blue to match Naomi’s dress, my make-up was done. I was married! This was my wedding day!

And yet, it wasn’t. Not really. Oh, I began to panic part way through the ceremony that perhaps it was my wedding. Perhaps I was actually going to marry Anthony. Were they going to ask us to sign a piece of paper? Could they arrange something like this for real? Could I refuse? Would that ruin the show? Or would I keep on saying yes just to play along with the rules of the game?

I certainly hadn’t intended to get married that day – or any day in any foreseeable future. It was the final day of Melbourne’s Next Wave Festival, and I had been eagerly awaiting No Show’s Shotgun Wedding. I’d met one of the directors, Bridget Balodis, the day before at Breakfast Club, and I’d thought of course it would have come up that I was a critic. Apparently not.

As we waited in the courtyard before the ceremony, Bridget asked if I would be interested in playing a role in today’s wedding. Sure, I said, thinking they’d pull me up to be a bridesmaid, perhaps. Mother-of-the-bride, maybe. But bride? It wasn’t until Anthony was pulled up to be the groom that I realised it would just be the two of us.

I was getting married.

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A Next Wave wrap up: Perhaps we’ll see how little we see

So I went to Melbourne for nine days.

I saw much more art than I ever expected too. I wrote much less that I planned. Scribbles in notebooks don’t count. I did go on the radio, though.

I saw thirteen Next Wave visual art and/or sound exhibitions/works over twenty-two different locations; seven with some kind of performance element. I saw eighteen Next Wave performance/dance/theatre works. The lines between types of works are almost all blurred, and I’ve no doubt you would count differently than me.

I saw two visual art exhibitions and two theatre works which weren’t connected to Next Wave – I could have chosen from dozens more. I only found the time to listen to two of the five audio plays from the Living Cities Tours. I don’t think you could say I even scraped the surface of the Emerging Writers Festival.

I went to Breakfast Club nine times for nine days. Some days I was more present than others. I spent four nights dancing to DJs at Wake Up. I went to one official feminist dinner and one official feminist breakfast. I went to Bone Library four times, and then found myself shackled with fear of responsibility and couldn’t take one home. I went to one closing night party, two after parties, and then got straight on a plane back home.

I acted in a TV cop show; I had my first manicure; I paddled a boat across the Yarra, I hugged one stranger, and I had my photograph taken with another; I got married in what is still revealing itself to be one of the most emotionally complex works I have ever been a part of; I went into space twice; I wore headphones a lot.

I saw work which I am still struggling to unpack, to understand, to find the vocabulary for, to explain. I saw how little I see.

I met and re-met some of the most inspiring staff, interns, volunteers, artists, residents, and audience members. I really did feel embedded in the culture. I hope you all stay in touch.

Given the choice between seeing work and writing about work, I chose the former. Back home, it’s time to choose the latter. I’ll be writing about the festival for RealTime, so the balance between writing for the publication and writing for the blog will take some time to reveal itself to me as I begin to type. Expect much more from me, though.

Thanks to everyone involved.

It was truly remarkable.

I am overjoyed.

Next Wave: Thinking about effect

Thoughts on day two of the festival being published on day five. Festivalling from 8am to 11pm doesn’t leave the most time for writing. Perhaps just another note, I’m seeing more work then I’m currently writing about. I hope to be able to touch on it all at some stage.

Breakfast provocation: can art be both beautiful and effective?

To begin: what do any of these words mean? What makes something beautiful, what does it mean to say something is effective, what is art? To me, the answer to the provocation was a clear yes, an of course. When I heard the provocation, I think I was perhaps thinking of affecting: I think beauty of art often lies in its evocation of emotion, and I would say these moments of art affecting you builds up into ways of effecting the ways you live your life.

The fact that this is the festival we have chosen to engage with says a lot about our aesthetics, the work which excites us and interests us. We probably find something beautiful new and young and different and experimentation. This doesn’t mean audiences which are seeing small works in Next Wave aren’t interested in the beauty which comes with flashy musicals, only they search for that beauty which is perhaps as yet unexplained or undefined.

Speakers at breakfast seemed to concentrate on a type of work in which the process is paramount: their work, it seemed, was focused on a process to search for a work with “effect”, rather than to create a work with a final aesthetic “beauty.” It was these thoughts of beauty, effect, and “art” which I carried through the day.

Joseph L GriffithsShelters are three wooden sculptures in Melbourne’s Docklands, an area plagued by the method of development. On the waterfront, it seems like it should be a primary focal point of any city. Instead, it is known as a dead area. My Day Pass guide explained to me the connections between the woes of the Docklands and the commentary on that in Griffiths’ work. While it was interesting to view the work through that lens, without being explained the connection, I doubt I would have made one. Knowing the connection affected how I view the work and the space: effect, maybe, through surrounding knowledge rather than the work itself.

The next visual arts piece of the day, Hull by Laura Delaney and Danae Valenzia is a series of displays and installations at Mission to Seafarers, an institution which provides support and a home-away-from-home for the seafarers who dock in Port Melbourne. Delaney spoke at breakfast on how she wondered into the building one day and felt compelled to respond. This draw of the building, the history, and the unseen, unacknowledged connection of the seafarers on our lives, perhaps means Delaney and Valenzia’s work is somewhat overshadowed. 90% of the world trade happens on our ocean; the effectiveness of Hull lies in drawing attention to this.

I finished the day with Food for Thought, a feminist dinner hosted by Brisbane visual artists and curators LEVEL. Perhaps the first question here is: is the dinner art? If the answer is yes, is this because it is hosted by artists, or because it is in an art gallery, or because it is in an arts festival? On to effect: can there be an effect of a small dinner with a small group of women who share much of the same politics? Is it “preaching to the converted”, or do we need these small moments of discussion for clarification or re-enthusiasm to go out into lives which can have effects?

At the beginning of the day, my answer to the question was yes. After spending that day mulling it over, I only feel confused. Yes, still, art can be both beautiful and effective; art can be beautiful or effective; art can be neither beautiful nor effective. It’s a many varied beast; to confine it to any one goal or definition is not only harmful, it is also fruitless.

Next Wave: Thinking about space

This isn’t a movement, it’s a moment.

The rough writing plan for the week: take in the ideas presented in Next Wave’s Breakfast Club, and view that day’s work through that lens. Day one spoke about international occupy movements. What does it mean when people come together and claim physical spaces?

At post-breakfast brunch, festival resident and fellow Adelaidian Ianto Ware and I discussed the perspective he can, or perhaps is expected to, bring to the festival. To me it seemed obvious: his work is all about spaces. Renew Adelaide, I said, is about looking at the way we treat spaces and asking if there is a way we can do it differently, or do it better. Rather than looking at an empty commercial property and thinking this can only be filled with a commercial entity, it takes the idea that the use of space for small cultural enterprises is better for the community, and for the building, than it sitting empty. Similarity, many of the artists in Next Wave are placing their work in unexpected places or unexpected situations and, whether intentional or not, this brings with it questions on the inherent use of space.

Over the past few months I’ve found myself interested in architecture criticism. Not from any great interest in architecture, but in the concept of a criticism of a (typically) large, functional, and at least somewhat public space. The world I write about is so transient, so intangible, that the idea of writing about the opposite captures me. Put a show in the Adelaide Festival Centre most people won’t know. Build the Adelaide Festival Centre and it’s going to be noticed.

We perceive buildings as having set roles or set capacities. An office building is for offices; a shop is for selling things; a basement is for storage. These prescribed notions give an order to our lives. By another notion, we perceive places as placing on us a specific set or rules or circumstances. We know how to behave on a tram or in a crowd or in a theatre, because it’s always to be the same set of rules.

So what happens when we break these rules? At Breakfast Club, Next Wave artist Liesel Zink, choreographer of fifteen, spoke about how her dance work in Flagstaff Train Station has subtly started to influence the behavior of the commuters traveling through the station every day during peak hour. While she says you can’t notice the work unless you are an audience member listening to the music on headphones, through rehearsal of the work in the public space the artists have been engaging with pedestrians who don’t normally interact with the artistic process. At first, she said, people shut off, but now they are starting to get used to it, and a more congenital atmosphere runs through the space. The rules of interaction have subtlety shifted. But if it is this gentle shift, she wondered, can it be sustained?

Breaking the rules of space in another way is dance work In Pursuit of Repetition (Fame and Squalor) by Alison Currie and Kel Mocilink under Federation Square. This basement space – almost empty, concrete walls, metal railings and fences, and exposed piping – seems to be just a hull in the building; a thoroughfare from one space to another. It’s certainly not a space intended for performing, let alone living, as Currie and Mocilink are doing through the festival.

And yet, as an audience member, I was struck at how we all continued to obey the rules of performance space. We were quiet; we sat where we were told to sit; we stood and walked where we were supposed to stand. And while, in some ways, it’s nice that these behaviours so intrinsically linked to professional performance space exist in a space outside of these traditional boundaries, in other ways I felt off ease with treating a non-performance space in this way. As Currie and Mocilink had a private conversation, I felt that I perhaps would like to have a private conversation. Instead, we stood, silent. Even the concept of a “fame” vs “squalor” ticket at first seems weird; and then we remember the idea of “Premium” and “D Reserve” at the ballet.

It’s an interesting concept, then. When you change the purpose of the space, of course you change the space. But do we just change it to having the same rules of other existing spaces? Can we create new spaces with new rules in old places? How much is art influenced by the space it occupies – how is work in a gallery different to street art different to in your lounge room. Is it different? Can theatre be a response to a space without being in that space? Can theatre be in a space without responding to that space?

When people in the occupy movement claim a public space as their public space, is this changing the space – or is it using it exactly as it should be used? When art is placed in a public space, is this changing the space, is this changing the art – and is it changing it in exactly the way it should be changed?