Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Rameau Project

Performance Space at CarriageWorks present THE RAMEAU PROJECT by The Opera Project in Track 8.

Before entering the performance space, Track 8, Nigel Kellaway greeted us and stood on a chair and explained some of the process for that evening’s performance. Mr Kellaway spoke of his discovery at the age of 20 of Rameau and the new Baroque experience he had had, as distinct from Vivaldi, Bach etc for him. He spoke of a long five year investigation of this project, resolving into tonight’s presentation. He spoke of his long rewarding practice with his regular artist cohort, Regina Heilmann, on this project and then explained that Ms Heilmann had to withdraw from performance for personal needs in Hobart, and that at very short notice Ms Nikki Heywood would be “reading” after a week rehearsal the other principal role for the showing. He suggested that however Rameau survived tonight we could “blame” him.

We then entered a black draped space to seating placed in the round. Not all of us had seats. Some stood, others sat on the floor (it was approximately 90 minutes long – or a life time, depending on disposition.) An orchestra of five musicians: Violins: Heloise Pyne, Katrina Papallo; Cello: Catherine Upex, Steve Meyer; Double Bass: Ashley Kurrie; led, it seemed, by the pianist Michael Bell arrived with the soloist Annette Tesoriero. Ms Tesoriero’s wit, precision, joy and bright edged skills glistened with inviting communication under her spotlight (Lighting, Simon Wise.) When other participants contributions paled, which was often, it was a safe harbour to reflect on her presence with the senses of sound or sight or both. In the program there are 17 pieces of music acknowledged – Mr Kellaway claims, in large dark inked print, that they are “ALL RE–IMAGINED BY NIGEL KELLAWAY”. He claims that he is the “Composer” of this long work “(after several French Masters)” –besides Rameau, Marais, Legrand, Couperin, and Brassens/Aragon – but being no expert in this field I was not sure whether it was Arranging rather than Composing he ought to have claimed. Any guidance?

Again, Mr Kellaway has written this piece “in collaboration with the performers referencing texts by Brian Fuata (2006), Jean Genet [Les Bonnes, [otherwise The Maids] 2nd version 1954] and Elfriede Jelinek [Das klaverspielerin, otherwise The Piano Teacher 1983].” But my experience of the piece was dominated by the Genet THE MAIDS references. Other “lame” jokes using Cate Blanchett as a character as the silent partner in several telephone conversations, that ends in Mr Kellaway discussing a possible Sydney Festival entry with “budget” in 2011, and improvised conversations (thankfully briefly) with the audience were perhaps “written” (and should have been edited, perhaps, out). A brief reference to the famous “cutting” episode in The Piano Teacher is the only other writing that I recognised. In fact my impression of the text was a truncated version of THE MAIDS (not truncated enough, in this case) against the genius composition of Rameau. THE RAMEAU PROJECT could just as easily, and more truthfully be called THE RAMEAU AND GENET PROJECT.

Ms Heywood, gave a gallant and tidy reading of her role, all the more admirable because of the brevity of rehearsal. Ms Heywood, per force, read the role. Mr Kellaway, though, also read chunks of his performance as well. Perhaps Writing, Composing, Directing and Playing the leading role may have been too taxing on his time to complete that task.

The major problem for me in this performance was the dominating presence of Mr Kellaway’s personality/ego. At no time did I feel that I was observing anybody but Mr Kellaway. The adoptive or habitual physical habits, with very mannered muscular displays about he articulators: pursed lips, licking, darting tongue etc, were so over used that the eye of a director would, possibly, have been a guiding hand to suggest “that less is best.” It was sometimes excruciating to stay focused on his contribution. In fact, other than appreciating the presence of the Orchestra and Ms Tesoorieo, the floor of this venue has not had more scrutiny from me, ever, and, certainly, my observations of the other audience members, ,seated conveniently in the round, of one especially, who was either texting or twittering on his mobile during the performance, provided amusing distraction enough, to help me to stop from calling out “ENOUGH!!!!!!!”. Recently, at the Avignon Festival, audience, attending a particular performance, stood, after one such protest and evolved a revolution of real spontaneous performance art of argumentative debate of pros and cons. If only I had had the courage. And would we have replicated the passions of that audience in France? Probably not.

The artistic statement in 2009, of having the actor impersonate a female character, firstly in a grey man’s suit, then in the top half of the suit with the legs denuded of pants and shoes and socks, to be re-placed with jewel encrusted high heels, to be ultimately replaced by a long, red, off the shoulder, see through ‘number’ (that is dress) with the actor in bare, balletically pointed feet, trailing a long black chiffon scarf or shawl behind him across the floor, was painfully redolent of memories that one has, of “Queer” Performance Art of the 1970’s. This vogue of female impersonation of Genet’s play by men was once a fearful expectation of those times past. What it did for me on Friday night was make me observe how much time and politics have moved on in terms of artistic expression. Last year the Pacitti Company from London were guests of the Performance Space for their LIVEWORKS program and presented two pieces CIVIL and FINALE. In the notes to the CIVIL performance, this piece about Quentin Crisp, told us that the work was 12 years old and that “the past decade has brought about a great number of changes not least in the development of performance’, political concerns and technologies….” Mr Kellaway should note that in the past DECADES, even here in Australia, that there has been a keen development of performance and political concerns. (Just a visit to the Performance Space sponsored QUICK AND DIRTY program in February, would have clued him up). Certainly attending Barrie Kosky’s POPPEA, or any knowledge of Mr Kosky’s work in the past few years, would have also given pause and hopefully inspiration in what to spend the last five years and Australia Council of the Arts, Arts NSW money and the Department of Performance Studies, University of Sydney facilities on.

Thank God for Rameau this evening. Thank God for that Orchestra and Ms Tesoriero. Huh.

For more information click here.


NK said...

Dear Kevin Jackson,

I guess vanity publishing never did any real harm, so I normally treat blogs with the same democratic respect I pay passing comment from strangers in the foyer – with a smile and polite thanks. But I could not resist responding more thoroughly to yours. I am surprised that anyone would write so exhaustively on my humble offering, when they clearly disliked the work so much.

You detail many things you didn’t want The Rameau Project to be, but I’m still not sure what you were actually hoping for beyond a recital of Rameau’s music. From the photo of you on your blog, I assume that, like me, you are well into your fifties or early sixties. So I am surprised that you didn’t recognize that The Rameau Project was primarily about us.

I’m very glad you saw Robert Pacitti’s CIVIL and FINALE last year. (You might have noticed that I was the manager/producer of those two productions.) Indeed, CIVIL concerned itself somewhat naively with shifting Queer politics. But I never imagined anyone would read The Rameau Project as any kind of Queer statement. That was never my intention. It is about class, privilege, age, failure, disappointment, betrayal and inevitably, decease. In nearly 40 years of practice I’ve never considered a man on stage in a frock as a necessarily homosexual phenomenon. But, then again, I’m merely an actor, and so these issues are complicated. Queer politics in the theatre have never been a particular concern of mine. Still, the responses I get from younger queer audiences to my work are generally more inquisitive and appreciative than those from an older generation.

Incidentally, I enjoyed Kosky’s POPPEA enormously, as I have most of his other work over the past 20 years, both here in Australia and in Europe. But his concerns (particularly musically) are a bit different from mine, and alas, I am no longer an adolescent with a raging hard-on.

Your remarks on my performance are nothing new. Professional reviewers have been saying much the same things about me for decades. Mine is clearly not a performative manner that would be encouraged at NIDA. 20 years ago Geoff Rush suggested that I was a serious clown, but warned me that I would be damned for it, unless I joined the circus. I chose the wrong game, didn’t I?

yours sincerely,

Nigel Kellaway

PS. From your blog mission statement, I assume you were very glad you didn’t have to pay to see The Rameau Project last weekend, nor pay for parking. You can thank the funding bodies for that.

Anonymous said...

@ NK:

Vanity publishing/vanity performing?

Could be pot calling kettle black.

I don't know because I didn't go. Actually, I meant to, but my intention was formed too far in advance and somehow I only realised on Sunday that I'd missed it.

KJ went. Give him a break. He didn't like it and he has said why. Why should people only write about things they like?

I just don't understand your reference to the blog mission statement. Isn't parking free on the south side of Wilson Street?

NK said...

Dear Marcellous,

Point taken. Kevin evidently didn’t like the work, and has every right to publish his opinions widely. If I didn’t concur with you on this I would have been a lot more brutal in my response. I was politely remarking on some of his observations.

As to your point regarding the vanity of the actor, I fear you are hitting a too easy target. We exhibit ourselves, or at least our flesh, because we are trained and PAID to do so. If that is a problem, then perhaps we should do away with theatre.

Regarding parking, Carrriageworks provides free off-street parking down the drive. You should check it out, if ever you find Wilson Street full.

Sorry you missed the show. You might have liked it.

best wishes, NK