10/11/2006 - 25/11/2006
Directed & conceived by Jade Eriksen
Conceptualised by Jade Eriksen, Vaughan Slinn, Jessie Alsop, Sam Martin
Presented by theatreheuristic
A creative collaboration between actors, writers, directors, musicians, architectural graduates, fine art graduates, graphic designers and performance design students culminating in a transformation of the theatre into a modern Oracular site centred around a domestic mystery.
A sensual installation taking the shape of tunnels, chambers, hives, jars and cabinets of curiosity, the work conjures the memory of a New Zealand farmer’s wife in flux.
theatreheuristic is delighted to produce arcane as part of the 2006 STAB commission, featuring Angela Green (Jane and the Dragon) and Serena Cotton (Insiders Guide to Love).
To find out more, visit www.theatreheurisitic.co.nz
Limited to 35 tickets per performance – book early!
Angela Green, Serena Cotton, Amanda Baker, Jessie Alsop, Marnie Prockett
Erin McNamara, GEoff Pinfield, Richie Elworthy, Daphne Eriksen
Vaughan Slinn, Ritchie Elworthy
approx 1 hr, no interval
Review by Lynn Freeman 15th Nov 2006
This production is a puzzle, but one worth the effort of time and thought.
Tiny square black box Bats has been transformed into a place of mystery and oracles, a treasure trove of tiny objects, a miniature beehive of industry but one where really and truly, nothing is as it seems.
You are ushered from space to space, weird experience to weird experience. Read the programme before you go in is the best advice I can give.
Director Jake Eriksen based much of the work on the memories of her two grandmothers. A woman starts to make preserves, in a quiet and orderly way. She is eventually joined by another version of herself doing the sewing, and another doing the laundry and so it goes on. A woman’s work, truly, is never done.
Eriksen cements her reputation as one of the most interesting young directors in Wellington with this piece. It’s almost choreography the way she has her performers move around each other in small spaces as they complete their tasks. She makes a difficult task look effortless. The performers too are all terrific.
The set and lighting designs all add to an invigorating piece of theatre.
Copyright © belongs to the reviewer
Oracle leaves it to us
Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 13th Nov 2006
Fortified by a small glass of mead, the audience (limited to 28 for each performance) of arcane is taken on an intriguing tour of an old house, but on the way it will pass between and behind the walls, through mysterious tunnels, up a ladder, and over floorboards through which it may occasionally glimpse a young woman.
All one can hear on the short journey are the murmur of innumerable bees, dripping water, and the plaintive sighing of a woman as one passes beehives, dozens of drawers and cabinets in which are the relics of a busy life (buttons, bees wax, pieces of cutlery, sewing), and tiny models of rooms.
Finally the audience finds itself seated before what the publicity describes as a modern Oracular site and a domestic mystery. On one side of the stage is a kitchen, on the other side a laundry, both as spick and span as an advertisement in a 1950s Saturday Evening Post. Above the rooms muslin bags round with liquid are dripping away producing jelly while below, amongst rows of Agee jars a farmer’s wife is preparing fruit for bottling.
Slowly the wife (now played by four actors in identical dresses and aprons) silently, efficiently and ritualistically cooks, cleans, irons, traps a bee, knits and does the washing. All the while an oracular priestess/Queen Bee conducts the action and then leads us into the final mystery before we are dispatched into the bustle of Cambridge Terrace.
arcane is part of the 2006 STAB season of experimental theatre and is a product of a collaboration between actors, writers, directors, musicians, architectural graduates, fine art graduates, graphic designers and performance design students.
Jade Eriksen of theatreheuristic has brought them all together with great skill and produced a work that is evocative of a particular time and brings to mind the lines of poet Isaac Watts: How doth the little busy bee/Improve each shining hour/And gather honey all the day/From every opening flower! /How skilfully she builds her cell/How neat she spreads the wax; / And labours hard to store it well/With the sweet food she makes. But unlike Watts, the collaborators of arcane ask the Oracle what all the hard work was for, and the answer, like most oracular answers, is a mystery we have to unravel for ourselves.
Copyright © belongs to the reviewer
Yes - and ...?
Review by John Smythe 11th Nov 2006
arcane adj. mysterious, secret, obscure, understood by few …
I always approach the BATS STAB season with anticipation, intrigue, excitement and, of course, trust. As commissioned shows – funded by a special Creative New Zealand grant – they have come through a competitive process that has challenged them to propose then create “performance works so cutting edge in their innovations they break the boundaries of audience expectations”. Expect the unexpected, then. Yes. I do!
This year the first STAB event was Open Book’s back-to-back I Ain’t Nothing But / A Glimmer in the Dark, She Said at Shed 11, which attracted diverse reviews and a provocative comment from Ake Ake’s Rhys Latton (which no-one, as yet, has either supported or challenged – why not?).
Now, back a BATS – still recognisable from the footpath where the office doorway serves as the box-office and the Pit Bar is the holding pen for the gathering audience – theatreheuristic has created an experiential installation and performance art work called arcane. (heuristic adj. serving or helping to find out or discover something; discovering for oneself; proceeding by trial and error …)
Conceived and directed by Jade Eriksen, arcane has been brought to fruition over ten months by four ‘conceptualisers’, four ‘creative collaborators’, two lighting designers, a sound designer, five performers and a vast construction team that includes most of the aforementioned.
arcane evolved from three primary sources:
- stories and memories received and constructed from both of Eriksen’s grandmothers, specifically scripts of 1960s radio talks written and read by her paternal grandmother, a Gisborne farmer’s wife
- the communication systems and architecture of bee colonies, and
- the Oracular establishments of the classical Greek period – specifically the Delphic Oracle and the ‘Oracle of the Dead’, site found in Baia, Italy.
In her programme notes, Eriksen also evokes Aristotle’s view of ancient riddles in explaining a feeling she sometimes has about theatre: “That it is a heuristic art form, generous in that it asks us all to be part of the problem solving and by its often metaphorical nature we are invited to get personal. Without realizing, it is through these ancient themes, these animals, these ancestors that we have revealed something very personal about ourselves.”
It’s as well to know all this before you enter into the experience. While the work is totally non-verbal except for one line uttered in the penultimate moment, and an enquiring mind and trusting soul may well be able to align and interpret all the physical and sensate elements without such prompting, the clues written in the programme notes will undoubtedly help you to solve the ‘riddle’ and thus feel more satisfied. Or not.
If the above has made you decide to go – or you’re going anyway – you may prefer to make your own discoveries without prior knowledge of the components, and return to this and other reviews after you’ve seen it – then argue via the ‘comment’ function if you disagree.
The ‘back to the womb’ entry point (recalling Les Arts Sauts’ Ola Kola at Waitangi Park in this year’s international arts festival) may have more carnal connotations for those not already thinking of beehives. As we queue along an under-lit boardwalk in a translucent plastic tunnel, a steady hum backs our compulsive chit-chat. Bright light and the silhouette of a woman’s head glows and fades, some sort of projection flickers – of writing in negative or is it chalk on a blackboard? – and we realise the ‘show’ has started. That is, we are already in the experience.
Moving on, including up steep steps to a higher level, nooks and crannies offer peek-box views of a fairly bare home in dolls’ house scale. Drawers of various kinds, harbouring intriguing knick-knacks, segue through long slim filing drawers to man-made beehives. And still the buzz drones on … Excitement ripples as we realise a woman’s face is gliding beneath the boardwalk, zipping open her plastic covering as she goes …
And so down into the auditorium, or a wedge of it, for the sit-down segment. A figure with her back to us, clad in translucent plastic, vibrates to the buzz which will, from time to time, be merged with the sounds of breathing and dripping (a Gareth Farr soundscape) … She (Angela Green) dons a bulbous, plastic frock (her abdomen?) and continues her mesmeric Tai Chi-meets-Bhutto ritual dance … She faces a large plastic wall which scrunches into what could be a navel – or a really tight sphincter perhaps?
A gloomily-lit 1960s farmhouse kitchen and laundry, separated by a passage behind the plastic wall, become the venues for solitary domestic activity carried out in silence by a well-groomed woman (she has obviously worn hair rollers over night) in a blue tunic dress, a red pinafore and black high-heeled shoes (mid-height). She cleans glass jars and will go on to wash, peel, cut and preserve fruit …
A clone of the woman sews and darns … Another washes and irons and attends to those troublesome stains … A fourth washes windows … Clone drones? As the work goes on around the vibrating Queen Bee there is plenty of time to contemplate, consider, conjecture …
For generation X or Y – the makers of the work – this may be a humming hymn of praise to their grandmothers and the buzzi-ness of being a woman in ‘the good old days’. For baby boomers like me it offers nostalgia for the roles and home life our parents ‘enjoyed’ but we roundly rejected in favour of less labour-intensive solutions and more instant gratification. And are our lives really the richer, are we more satisfied, in the wake of it all?
I also find myself thinking, is this a true evocation of such a life? Where are the hints of her family – the piles of dishes, large meals to prepare, y-fronts and rugby jerseys, school uniforms, toys, homework, sports gear …? Was there no upside of love, in any of its many forms, to offer pleasure or enrich this life? And what about her inevitable involvement in wider community activities, and her use of the phone, radio, newspapers and magazines as portals to the wider world?
Amid the humdrum existence there is a relatively dramatic moment when the housewife stalks an intruding insect in the laundry and captures it under a jar. The buzzing intensifies: aha – it’s a bee! The prisoner imprisons! But it’s an idea that goes nowhere because there is no sense of character in this cipher to indicate anything beyond the robotic. So my next thought is, isn’t this finally an insult to all those grandmothers?
This in turn raises the question of whether the art form serves the content or vice versa. A good poet could capture the metaphorical imagery and tone in a few well-wrought lines. A visual artist could explore the same detail in a single frame that would reveal itself in a few minutes of study yet be worthy of revisiting for years to come. But this is performance art and as such, isn’t it underutilising its potential resources rather than pushing beyond the usual boundaries?
Is there a difference between the performing arts and Performance Art? Perhaps. But just because it’s slow, or non-verbal, that doesn’t make it Art. Not in my book, anyway.
When the Queen Bee’s abdomen lights up from within with fairy lights and she finds a different rhythm in a foot-stamping dance then approaches the wall and breaches it (recalling the earlier under-floor image), it suggests a breakthrough of sorts. But to what? There is only darkness beyond. Endless possibility? She becomes preoccupied with a dim, naked light bulb … Blackout. Silence.
Yes – and …? This could be a finely crated, if over-extended, first act. It has certainly been delivered with dedication and conviction. The ingredients are set out for a repast rich in potential. Now what? But no. That’s all there is.
To return to the premise, then: is arcane “so cutting edge in its innovations it breaks the boundaries of audience expectations”? For me the answer is “no” to the first bit (the component parts of last year’s Demeter’s Dark Ride and Head were much more dynamic and interesting) and “yes” to the second, in that I usually expect theatre – and an art work in any form – to add up to more than the sum of its parts and stimulate me a great deal more than this has.
If this is ‘alternative’ theatre, it seems fair to compare it with a ‘well made play’ or two on the theme of a woman’s role in the home: Ibsen’s A Doll’s House (1879) or Renee’s Wednesday to Come (1984), for example. And in so doing, I cannot help but conclude that one great benefit of the STAB season is that it helps us appreciate just how thoroughly a well wrought play, well produced, can engage all dimensions of our being human.
I ache to see a STAB commission that truly fulfils the brief instead of proving, yet again, that when devisers work on the ‘how’ of performance before fully processing the ‘what’ and ‘why’ of the content, the result invariably adds up to less than the sum of the parts.
P.S. I feel bound to add that if the work of Robert Lepage is an influence here (no Marty, I’m not assuming it is, but if …), then would-be emulators need to study his process in greater depth and comprehend what rich deposits of human experience lie beneath the surface, and how very human and complex the motive forces are that drive the action forward.
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