December 01, 1992

Power and Puppets

Australian Dance Theatre

Reviewed by Murray Bramwell

Back in the Space with a three item program Leigh Warren’s ADT has been getting on with the business of being a dance company. Contract terminations and leadership changes are part of the process of continuity and change in any company but they cause upheaval and stress nonetheless. It can’t have been an easy environment for either Warren or his dancers to produce new work which makes the present season the more commendable.

After the mish-mash of Tu Tu Wha, Warren has prudently gone for items more modest in scale and coherent in purpose. Some projects can be heroic even in failure but Tu Tu Wha was not one of them. Fatuous in conception and grandiose in its execution it mocked the very real talents of both the director and his company. Worst of all it wasn’t even any fun.

This time ADT has put its eggs in three baskets. The opening piece, Good and Mad Women by Susan Peacock, according to the choreographer’s notes, explores “the sense of archaic mysticism which is linked to women’s creativity” and “the unique sense of intimacy and support which exists between women and the difference or gap in understanding, which often frustrates their relations with men.” A tall order in twenty minutes.

In fact Peacock doesn’t succeed in bringing these large meanings into play. Instead she creates a far more specific narrative, one that focuses rather than generalises with the use of the Stella-Stanley paradigm of addictive relationship from Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire- complete with repeated sound clips of Brando’s legendary intonation. On to this Peacock grafts two Prince songs- Release It and Joy in Repetition. The references to Stella in Release It may provide a literal link but the material from Graffiti Bridge fails to connect and the momentum of the work falters with it.

Tied so closely to something as vivid and culturally specific as Streetcar it is hard, despite back-projected images from ancient statuary, to make any sort of leap to archaic mysticism. Similarly, since the notion of sisterhood didn’t rate even the slightest attention in the Kowalski household the chorus of barechested Stanleys throwing their boots at a cohort of Stellas seem more like outtakes from Grease than an insightful investigation of gender disconnection. Despite its declared meanings Good and Mad Women turns out to be a surprisingly unadventurous statement.

In contrast Leigh Warren’s Never Mind the Bindies succeeds for its very simplicity. Performed by the women dancers on my night, the atavistic rhythms of Drums of Chaos drive a work that is freshly athletic and imaginative in its choreography. Avoiding the temptation to match the beat, Warren shifts focus to the arms and torso creating a delicacy and subtlety of movement that is quite unexpected. Warren suggests links with Balinese kris dancers – again, like Peacock, seeking to layer the work with cultural associations which are simply unnecessary. Never mind the footnotes, Never Mind the Bindies speaks lucidly and pleasingly for itself.

The main work, Petrouchka, it has been hinted, is a drame a clef for recent doings at the ADT – controlling sorcerer-persons influencing free-spirit artists and so on. I’m not drawn to allegorical analysis myself. Stravinsky’s sublime score – now sounding less strange than when Nijinsky first danced the lead for the Ballet Russe- and the imaginative possibilities of the narrative seem reason enough for ADT’s choice. Meredith Russell’s designs, particularly the brilliantly coloured and strikingly detailed silk backdrop and props, provide a lavish and subliminally sinister dimension to the production. In the leads, though accomplished, Csaba Buday’s magician is too much the hysteric particularly when nearly engulfed in his own drapery. Victor Bramich has a plainer task as the Blackamoor, Celia Brown is memorable as the Ballerina and Aidan Munn appealing, if occasionally cloying as the eponymous puppet.

The Adelaide Review, December, 1992.

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