FORCE MAJEURE and CARRIAGEWORKS present A DANCE THEATRE PERFORMANCE DIRECTED by KATE CHAMPION: THE AGE I'M IN.
THE AGE I'M IN was first presented at Sydney Festival and Adelaide International Festival in 2008. This is the first time I have seen this work. I have to confess I have not always enjoyed or liked this company's work. On reflection, after witnessing this work last night, it maybe because the work was always a work that was in its premiere season. The task of creating, rehearsing, solving problems artistic, and with this company's work, technical as well, and then presenting under an anticipatory deadline for an audience, a Festival audience, the works never seemed really comfortable and were still in a "baking" mode, not completely solved or settled. Not secure. Sometimes seeming to be attempting too much. Art, theatre, dance, multimedia, and philosophic observations. It just never seemed to be whole. Last night was the last performance at Carriageworks (in the usual Performance Space Bay, Bay 20.) after almost a year of gestation, and the experience was profoundly moving.
"Force Majeure is a Sydney based dance-theatre company led by Kate Champion as artistic director with Geoff Cobham and Roz Hervey as artistic associates...... Company artists include actors, dancers, designers, writers, visual artists, composers and film makers."
In Bay 20 we entered the usual dance configuration for dance performance with a steeply raked bank of seats facing the performance area. The performance area is just the bare wooden floor with a room-dividing screen backing, in the upstage left corner, a simple round table and four chairs. Slightly upstage of centre right there is another room divide screen that is covered in an opaque material. Scattered around the space are other variations of chairs or benches. Also on the floor are some small portable video screens, which are, during the performance, picked up and handled dexterously by the performers. On these screens appear images of the faces of the holder or other people. Sometimes there are images of naked bodies, or bodies in movement/dance, or design patterns like game images etc. The images shown to us on these screens are as varied as the artistic story journey requires. Amazingly complex. They are beautifully executed and decidedly effective in the narrative and design of the work. The Audio Visual Producer is Tony Melov and The Audio Visual Design is by Neil Jensen Their contribution to this work is simply remarkable. (The photographic images are credited to William Yang.)
The Original Music & Sound Design is by Max Lyandvert. The Sound design is by Mark Blackwell. Tremendously skillful. Besides music from sources as varied as Benny Goodman, Four Tet, John Zorn & The Treme Brass Band some 80 vox populi interviews have been made and edited into the soundtrack. Mostly the company of performing artists lip sync the speeches. The Lighting Designer, Geoff Cobham uses his resources almost as if the lighting effects are a dancer/actor in the progress of the work. Intergral to the fluidity of the piece. (Mr Cobham also Set design.) The costumes of the performers are clothing of the real world and they serve the actor/dancers comfortably and subtly. This is the work of Bruce McKinven. I have acknowledged all these artist because their contribution is so internalised into the work, and yet are so much part of the work, that it could go by without comment. It shouldn't and it hasn't.
The company of performers have been carefully chosen to cover a wide range of ages. Youngsters with the future in front of them. Young mid lifers in the middle of the bewildering swim of life. The middle age, confronted and confronting the toll of time and biology on the resources of their bodies. And, finally old age, and in either the conscious or unconscious closing journey towards finality-the end. (The Seven Ages Of Man!!!) Using the edited interviews with catch phrases, such as: "There's no respect anymore, I think the respect has gone out." "I enjoy childhood a lot, although I could do without school." "I think when you're dead you're dead." accompanied by physical movement - sometimes extrapolated from apparently natural gesture, sometimes extended into dance choreography, the audience are presented with vignettes of humanity dealing with living, all of them prejudiced by "the age I'm in." Depending on "the age you are in", the impact of the individual pieces have more relevance and empathy, although all the pieces are of a whole and are accumulatively impossible to not recognise or resist.
This was a last performance. And at first there seemed to be a clique of enamoured supporters who were in the audience who wanted to show their unbridled support by whooping or cheering or clapping at the end of sequences, but so accumulative are the observations, and so acutely accurate are they, in many different moods and modes, that even they were subdued and drafted into the spell of the work of the performance we were witnessing.
The performers, a mixture of dancers and actors, were so touchingly engaged with the work and their responsibilities that one cannot distinguish one as more interesting or more concentrated etc. This was a beautifully honed ensemble of artists (Please include the already alluded to design artists.) Stanislavsky would be proud. The dance/theatre, the acting/moving of all were of a whole.
One sequence for me was truly transporting. One of the performers with a slight disability is featured in a spotlight centre stage, but behind the opaque screen on the stage right side, four of the video screens form a square of images that when held together show us this theatre/dancer, naked from the waist up, in a beautiful set of choreographic poses that gave me the impression of his body suspended and floating, flying in the air, in space. The screens separate and float around behind the screen, different parts of the body separating (or disabling), rejoining in different configurations and separating again. Captivating and beautiful. I was in what Anne Bogart calls "Aesthetic arrest."
There were many such moments. The remarkable performers were Marlo Benjamin, Samuel Brent, Annie Byron, Tilda Cobham Hervey, Vincent Crowley, Daniel Daw, Brian Harrison, Roz Hervey, Kirstie McCracken, Veronica Neave and Timothy Neave.
The last credit must go to Kate Champion. It is illustratively moving for me to see the note in the program "Choreography created by the performers." Such a simple gesture of humility from Ms Champion goes a long way for me to understand the humanity she brings to her company (along with Karen Rodgers, Martin Langthorne, Erin Daly.): FORCE MAJEURE.
So, I was fortunate to see this work at the end of a season rather than in the hot house of the premiere. The value of time in the maturation of the work. A rare opportunity in the Performing Arts in Australia. A lesson to be observed and learnt.