Thursday, July 8, 2010


CAGELING presented by THE RABBLE at Carriageworks, Sydney.

THE RABBLE re-imagine Federico Garcia Lorca's classic text 'THE HOUSE OF BERNARD ALBA'.

From the program notes: "A NOTE ON THE CONTEXT. Lorca leaves the following instruction at the beginning of THE HOUSE OF BENRNADA ALBA: The poet advises that these three acts are intended as a photographic documentary. We have taken these instructions and produced CAGELING - an exploration of repression, gender, sexuality and grief. The premise of the original play remains: our family will mourn for eight years, no weeping is allowed..."

Further :"A NOTE ON CONTENT. Our process is collaborative: the shape and content of CAGELING has been informed by a number of sources. Lorca's text is the undercurrent - a poetic force that has sculpted all that you see and hear.We have also used several poems by Ana Rosetti… The Philomela and Procne text from Ovid has been freely adapted by Dan Spielman."

In the 'hazed' Bay 20 space at Carriageworks (the usual performing space for the Performance Space’s projects) lit quietly, we were ushered around the bare brown wood backside casing of a 'cage', that when we were seated in the steep banking of seats could view as three white walls, the back one with a wide ,high oblong window, the other two with no exits, while the front was a complex of panelled perspex. Inside this box- cage were five (the play has ten female roles – really two hundred and ten women ,if one followed the directions of Lorca – with the male presence an outside and invisible pressure!!) figures in women's black mourning clothing, either bare faced or with white handkerchief coverings, seated or standing around white painted furniture - chairs , a white painted tin trunk.

Mostly, whilst the audience entered, and for some time after, no movement occurred, except for a gently wafted black fan in the hands of one of the figures. A soundscape of ringing bells pealed out around the space. The five figures were made up by three women and two men. Daniel Schlusser - bald and clean shaved in a waist trimming black ensemble, the "Bernada Alba " figure; Mary Helen Sassman as Augustias; Dana Miltens as Magdalena; Jayne Tuttle as Amelia; Pier Carthew - scruffy haired and bearded younger male, as the youngest daughter Adela. Carefully, agonisingly one of the performers moved to a microphone stand and the flourescent lighting flickered into a state, the bells stopped pealing and the performance began.

I attended the performance with three friends who had just come from the 2010 Biennale of Sydney exhibits at Cockatoo Island etc. (One traveling up from Adelaide). I took them to this performance in the spirit of that confronting , interesting contemporary art project, hoping that it would provide a 'topper' to the art filled days that they had indulged in.(Fortunately, the LIQUID ARCHITECTURE program at the Eugene Gossens Auditorium did that for my guests the following night).

I was the only one amongst us with any prior knowledge or experience of the Lorca play. I could wend my way through the one hour twenty minute performance with some sustained, ultimately waning interest but with a great deal of objective endowing of the events in the 'cage'. A great deal of hard work that cumulatively did not add up to much original enlightenment about the human condition, any sort of entertainment and, absolutely, with no ecstasy.

My friend, an artist in his own right, familiar with ‘live art’ and new media, but with no knowledge of the play, the poetry of Rosetti or the Ovid work, found it tedious and actually fell asleep: "The most tedious theatre experience" he had ever had. My other friend who had flown up from Adelaide for an art feast, herself an amateur artist of wide interests, could not comprehend any of the activity and could not divine any relevance for herself, of the material or the experience - indeed, when Mr Schlusser stood on his head and allowed his dress to fall from his lower torso to reveal his naked sex organs for several minutes in contrast to the black undies of the female performers, spread-eagled against the back wall, she sighed, "So what? Ho hum." "Still", she said " it was interesting to see, just to plumb and verify the possible highs and lows of art experience" Dame Edna would probably have said worse. Sir Les would have been befuddled. Either dumbfounded or vociferous. A fourth acquaintance, a lecturer in performance at one of our universities, asked at the end of the applause if she could be excused and quickly vanished, off into the night, without comment.

THE RABBLE, a Melbourne based company, last presented in Sydney at Carriageworks, SALOME. Some of the company were involved in MANNA at the Sydney Theatre Company. It seems to me that, as interesting as the collaborative process may have been for these artists and no doubt, however great the textual inspirations of Wilde and Lorca and Dan Spielman may be, this is still work that is at an indulgent rehearsal 'draft' and needs more time for working before being presented so elaborately to the public.

There are images of interest and sometimes beauty presented here but they were few and derivative. (The bloody mouths and then the tongue thrown and stuck to the perspex wall - Mr Kosky , Mr Wright , Mr Andrews et al have been at that for some numbing time now, here in Sydney. (Directors and Designers are Emma Valente, Kate Davis,) The score by M. Davis was the one beautifully sustained contribution of the night (although it had to compete with the Carriageworks WINTERLAND function noise leaking into the space, most of the night).

Mr Schlusser had a vital physical presence and movement skill and commitment that because of its expertise contrasted with the virtual lack of physical presence/charisma of any of the other performers. None of them compensated satisfactorily, either, with verbal or acting contributions of any impact I am sad to observe. So dynamically efficient was Mr Schlusser's performance that it had an element of zealatory that drew attention to itself in a distracting way (this included his curtain call demeanor as well).

Just what the piece was contributing to my understanding of living in Sydney in 2010, other than the obvious knowledge of the original text, which I could endow the performance with, was not apparent. It's relevance to the audience was obfuscated with an indulgence in 'form' and ineptness in skill. Unrefined inspiration.

I recently attended a performance by the Wooster Company in New York, NORTH ATLANTIC, and although the content of the play/performance was dated, the performance skills and the design wizardry of the actors/company were so startlingly brilliant that the experience was a zestful one. THE RABBLE for all of its aspirations, which are admirable, do need to hone the basic instrument tools and technique before venturing into public performance of their explorative collaborations. As well, the dramaturgy needs to be more rigorous.

Like the recent visit to Sydney of the Pacitti Company at Performance Space at Carriageworks with their work FINALE, (also using a classic text as inspiration, Zola's THERESE RAQUIN) my hopeful aspirations for this kind of necessary and brave work (especially within the Australian context) was sadly unrequited.

The best of this work has also being three of my best theatre going experiences; LA FURA DELS BAUS : SUZ/O/SUZ (way back) and a year ago as part of the Sydney Festival: THE NATURE THEATER OF OKLAHOMA'S, NO DICE and An Australian venture THE BLAND PROJECT at Performance Space in 2008.

At the end of the program notes end there is a list of thanks to supporters, for "THE RABBLE are unfunded and rely on goodwill, generosity and hard work." It is why I attend their work when I can.

1 comment:

Mr Mink said...

Kevin, I am obviously considerably belated in my comments in your piece on Cageling which I now saw over a month ago. The YouTube clip you have inserted at the top of your piece should give potential viewers/participants in the Rabble "experience" more than enough warning of what they are about to see. Obviously your interstate artist friends were also generally it seems not entirely prepared for it. I am sure that the Rabble experience will certainly divide audiences with likely the majority, other than the "beardy wierdies" so to speak, likely to be saying that it was a complete w*nk and WTF was all that about?! For the first 15 or 20 minutes I also thought I was being made to endure some kind of Melbourne High Art Experience which will exhaust/bore you but somehow make you culturally "stronger". What with five "women" all dressed in black, two of whom were blokes, one with a shaved head, the other with a black beard, just to start the alienation off. But gradually I was swept along by the sound and concept of the performance such that I finally decided that it was so deeply unusual that I would likely almost certainly go and see any future performances by the Rabble. If only because the experience that they bring you is so completely out there and different from anything else on the Sydney stage I have seen in ages. It certainly takes you back to the glory days of that rather flexible space on Cleveland Street called the Performance Space in which I saw so many interesting things in the 1980s and later. Unlike you I had absolutely no knowledge of the Lorca on which this is apparently based and that may/not have been a good thing it seems. The whole piece is almost so structured as to alienate the audience/viewers -- what with the perspex sheeting at the front of the cage effectively forming a semi-muffling sound block unless the actors were speaking into the microphone in the space. The sonic environment was a vital contributor to the "go with the flow" (or die trying) of the piece. Definitely High Concept Art which requires something of the viewer -- perhaps not entirely sure what! -- but completely novel enough in concept and execution to consider enduring it again next time they visit.