Monday, October 25, 2010
Branch Nebula present SWEAT as part of the Live Live season at Performance Space, Carriageworks, Redfern.
Branch Nebula presents SWEAT with the co-creators Lee Wilson (Director) and Mirabelle Wouters (Design) and Performers, Devisors, Choreographers: Claudia Escobar, Erwin Fenis, Ali Khadhim, Marie Palomares, Ahilan Ratnamohan, with Noiscian and live Sound by Hirofumi Uchino.
"SWEAT is a darkly humorous work that takes its audience into the world of those who do the dirty work. It uses parkour, Bboying, football, noise art and dance." (The noise art of Mr Uchino, being for me, the most impressive element of the show). This work uses text and a set of theatrical interactions that require the audience to actively participate.
INTERACTION!!!- A contemporary buzz word (still) that helps to legitimize some works of art.
There is no seating and the audience are, after been ushered into an empty space by the theatre workers of Carriageworks, cajoled to exit and re-enter the space 'faster' by one of the performers. After re-entering we are asked to undress and dress a performer for ‘work’ we watch the rest of the company fill the space with their equipment for ‘work’ -sound desk, portable lighting equipment, etc, their necessary tools (they are assisted by a real crew of theatre technicians who, ironically, do most of the ‘dirty work’); we watch the company dressed in impeccably clean and iconic working uniforms perform dance impressions of cleaners at work, gloves, aprons, hair nets, spray disinfectants, (empty) bucket and mops; we are divided into groups and sat on the floor and we watch demonstrations of these artists special skills, e.g. dance, Bboying, football and martial arts, each in turn, presumably the human facet of these ‘workers’; some of us are given chairs to represent a mock fashion parade audience of these 'workers' turning their cleaning equipment into faux couture of the cleaning class and cat walking it to choreographed dance; some of us are asked to be guests at a restaurant and be served a quasi meal (whilst covered in protective plastic) which ends with one of the wait servers rolling naked in the food and drink on the table. We are then ‘forgiven’ by each of the performers in turn, for some supposed thought transgressions that we may have participated in, while attending to the performance of SWEAT.
The performers are charming, skilful in their specialities and attractive in action. But the sum total of the political statement was, relative to the artifice of the work, puny and not very demanding. I have not seen the other work of this company and so am not fully acquainted to their commitment to the politics they are engaging in here. From their website I understand that their work exists in the “Cultural, theatrical, dance and contemporary/experimental” mode using a “diverse cultural expression …to apotheosize (or to deify) the cultural energies” such as “kickboxing, wrestling, speedways, video arcades, BMX competition...” All this is undoubtedly true in Sweat as well, but I do note that the word ‘political’ is not part of any of their statements.
In fact I was mostly bewildered by what, for me, was a series of mixed messages of what I was experiencing. Dance or ‘political’ statements/observations? In the program under the Rules/ Guidelines/ Instructions we are told “Don't worry - it will all make sense later”. And it was in discussion afterwards and in the reading of further notes in the program, that I was able to clarify some of the serious intent of the work. Quotes from authorities as recent as 6th October, 2010, from the The Age newspaper under the heading “Kirner Goes in to Bat for Big Hotels' Underclass” by Jason Dowling put some light onto the puzzle I had felt.
There is a great deal of form/method in SWEAT but the content lacks real or consistent clarity. The performance surely should register for an audience, standing by itself - it ought to be communicated whole, independently? One of its aims should be to be a gift for an audience, so that they can know and feel without further explanation. The direction should have aimed for all of us to have got the work as one, together, or not? It is tiresome and, I have become less and less patient of art that requires me to read a statement of intent, beside the work, to fully comprehend what I am viewing.
It is here then that I find the dramaturgy (John Baylis) to be inadequate in its shaping and underlining the many ‘ideas’ of expression that have probably evolved out of the research, and development phase of the work supervised by Martin del Amo, Deborah Pollard and David Williams. A great deal of physical material seems to be available, which has been strung onto a collection of flimsy political objectives. The work seems to suffer under too much divide between the natural gifts of the performers, their art and their commitment to the work’s political agendas.
This is a worthy “experiment” and may develop, with more rigour, into a more impactful work. Less art, more matter, clearer shape, emphasis and consistent commitment.
Living in Australia, in my cultural ivory tower, I need this work to raise my political consciousness as to the fair economic status of others in my community. Living in California for some time it was so evident that it was a constant issue for my conscience. Each morning and afternoon I greet the cleaning staff of my building work place and notice the cultural origin of that work force. Just what is their wage? Is their home pay adequate to the task that they do?
For some, SWEAT was clear. But then they had experienced that work place world intently and knew of its inequities personally. I do not have that first hand knowledge.
The power of politically charged hybrid forms like THE RIOT ACT out at Campbelltown Arts Centre or version.1.0’s THIS KIND OF RUCKUS or Theatre Kantanka’s MISSING THE BUS TO DAVID JONES last year have left indelible impressions of form and content striking the right balance for maximum impact.