October 2009 Archives

It has been a while since the performance monkey put paw to keyboard, but he has still been, y'know, seeing stuff in theatres. Some of these things have been terribly cool, and have involved magical oracles, properly good nervous breakdowns and St Paul's Cathedral. And some of these things have been terribly lame (including a ballerina asking us to share her therapy, a playwright mawkishly disinterring the dead, a once-sharp writer utterly losing the plot). But what I miss - what we all miss, surely? - is ecstasy.

It's fitting that the monkey's estivation coincided with the death of Pina Bausch. Shocking though the grim reaper's turning his attention to dance this summer, also taking out Merce and Jacko too, Bausch's death was the one I took personally. I'd never met her, but as a spectator her work took me to places I'd rarely experienced.

The headiest rush of summer reading came via a gift from my friend Martel, a part of the Melbourne University Press' cherishably neat On... series of books. Short, sharp and unnervingly orange, On Ecstasy is by Australian opera and theatre director Barrie Kosky. I've never seen a production by this opinion-cleaving enfant terrible, but I now have a good idea of what drives him: Kosky writes in a state of blissful delirium, from his early exposure to recordings of Madame Butterfly ('why did her voice caress my skin, sink into my flesh and whirl around in the middle of my stomach?') to applauding the way Mahler induces 'vertigo, claustrophobia and neurosis.'

Kosky wants performance (and, possibly, life) to operate as an exalted, alchemical sensorium, with no place for timid souls. By the time he described his productions of Wagner (The Flying Dutchman is 'a seasick phantasmagoria', and the score of Tristan and Isolde tears through text 'like a knife slashing meat'), I was almost giddy.

The most mind-boggling was his production of The Dybbuk, staged in an abandoned Melbourne warehouse, in which the heroine and her possessing spirit were exorcised, both in filthy underwear, first in a barrow of mucky potatoes, then rolling and screaming around the floor. Dead, their near-naked bodies hung from butcher's hooks, the heat of their frenzied bodies visibly steaming in the icy space. It was, Kosky confirms, 'one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen in the theatre.'

And that, my friends, is what I want from a night out. Cerebral theatre, architectural dance can both be alluring, and I love knotty, difficult things - Mark Morris' dense new piece to a mad Charles Ives score or Fiona Shaw's barnstorming stomp through Mother Courage have both set my head whirring in recent weeks, even if they leave my heart still. But is it so wrong to long for performance that sinks its teeth into your neck, shakes you till you are breathless and then leaves you, weeping and shuddering in a corner?

I'm just about to leave the house to see Michael Clark's new dance piece, set to his glam rock heroes, which promises disconcertingly intent dancers and music cranked up to eleven. That might do it...

October 30, 2009 12:21 AM | | Comments (4) |

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