Are You Scared of Me? Ghosting Part 6
09/07/2011 - 10/07/2011
Performers: Suzanne Cowan, Sean Curham, Anna Bate, Kristian Larsen, Mike Holland with 80 members of the Sweet Adelines and the Greater Auckland Chorus
...the weirdest thing I have ever seen
Review by Jack Gray 10th Jul 2011
Perhaps in hindsight, I could also say the same about the general gist of this show?
The performance at Corban Estate Centre, Henderson, takes place in a massive industrial looking factory/hall space previously occupied by Mau Dance Company. A loud heater that looks and sounds like a rocket engine provides warmth for the show’s duration, warming us and also providing an aural backdrop.
There is a makeshift bar and the audience is seated in a semicircular fashion on chairs stacked on bleachers. A man in a suit sits with his back to the audience in front of a huge scrim backdrop; the stage is littered with microphones, beer crates, wires and cords, consoles, flowers and video cameras, and a woman dressed in black prowls to and fro, assisting people.
It is an eclectic audience. Young, funky, alternative, artsy, some Pacific and Maori, lots of elderly folk, and some dance professionals. Everyone expects something – but none know what type of strange concoction will be served.
The ‘show’ begins.” Sean Curham enters in crisp shirt and tie, shifting selected audience members to different seats. One man, who is moved away from his friends for the show’s duration, looks completely resistant and annoyed throughout.
The woman in black walks across the stage with a sign saying “Introductions”… and we sit, waiting, looking around, watching one other. I make a note saying something about how interesting looking at nothing can be.
I then notice in the darkness, the movement of a shape that looks conspicuously like a car, pushed in silently by two suited men and driven by a woman. The headlights blind some of the audience like possums. It sits there waiting like we do.
Then a whole bunch of women come in through the door. All dressed in flamingo pink layers and wearing spangly, sparkling earrings. They are a mixture of ages, mostly older, mostly white. They look like ladies from the RSA. I am quite charmed and slightly alarmed as well. They paused to put on silver heels; some need help to buckle them up. (A man in the audience behind me says that perhaps they had arrived late due to the rain, rationalising why we have sat there waiting.)
The woman in the car (Suzanne Cowan) emerges eventually and sits herself in a wheel chair. She wears a tartan cape over a furry vest, and tartan trousers. Though quite becoming, I wonder if this choice is perhaps a red herring.
Attaching a wheelie wooden board contraption to her chair, she pulls it behind her to a position at the centre of the space. Sean Curham enters briskly and lies down on the wheelie platform and matter-of-factly places Suzanne atop his pelvis and lays her back onto his chest. They are handed microphones to speak into while he pushes them around the space on the board.
– What’s your relationship to Sean?
– How long will you be here?
– Can I ask you 10 awkward questions?
– Can I ask you 7 awkward questions?
– Do you think believing in God will help?
– Do you pray?
– My life is better than yours because I can feel my legs.
The back and forth dialogue is hard to hear and focus on. It has a strange combination of emotional detachment and close physical connection, giving an odd sense of something awkward and awry.
The programme note says their goal is to explore the question of “difference” – as a means to get away from thinking of people in terms of their similarities, addressing questions of equity and justice based on a sense of difference not sameness.
The man in the suit is still sitting with his back towards us. His type of concentrated nothingness is permeating everything.
The seventy members of the Greater Auckland Chorus who are seated in amongst the audience then rise to mouth a song without vocalising. A physically interpretive type of harmony chorus, it is interesting to see how bizarre silent singing can be. Next they sing several songs their normal way, with voice and gestures, and a conductor, and settle us into the genre. The woman in black shows a sign to cue each song.
The man in the suit then stands up, still facing the back and introduces us to some type of psychic-medium-live-talk-show. He says his (unseen) spirit guide Maureen is ready to answer any questions from the audience. The publicity listed a divine 200kg psychic medium, so I suppose using our imagination is a good way to resolve that expectation.
The freewheeling babbling host ramps up, and live video feed of the audience guinea pigs is projected on the screen as various people are asked questions by a roving reporter man.
I start to feel like I am in a weird space. I sort of don’t recall the details for a certain period of time. I am seated behind a quartet of the chorus and can’t see what’s going on. The light shines in my eyes. Noise. Rabble. Vague shapes on the screen. Perhaps I am channelling?
Later there is a question about what the chorus really want to know from the spirit world. And they sing a version of ‘How much is that doggy in the window?’ replacing some of the words with Bulldog, Terrier and Chihuahua. By this stage the audience has well and truly crossed over.
The last phase of the show has Curham counting obsessively to a modern soft rock song, while Cowan slowly draws a chain attaching her to a massive Trojan Horse-like A Frame, pulling her slowly upwards to a standing position. The choir moves out to face the audience, lighting their path with little torches and then hum ‘Imagine’. Some are given beer crates with pillows to sit on, by the woman in black.
At this point, I wonder what they make of this experience?
Part of the objective of this project was to “not make work that is precious and removed (and sits in a gallery somewhere) but instead to work in a way that is connected to the wider community.”
There is another sequence with Sean violently shaking a chair as he weaves his way around the stage to take a seat on a swing hanging from the A frame. More bright lights blind the audience. Cut to the end result: Cowan and Curham swinging happily from the A Frame, while a video plays and the chorus sings ‘Walking On Sunshine’ as the finale.
As we leave the theatre, mumbles of “The Greater Auckland Chorus made that show” or “That was the weirdest thing I have ever seen” fell about the space like leaves in a storm.
I found the show presented several conundrums.
The performance was publicised as “A Musical by Sean Curham Entertainment”. Obviously a facetious by-line as there really isn’t any dance, or emotional content – love, humour, pathos and anger – communicated through this particular ‘story line’ to provide an integrated whole. Though I did laugh at times, it was more out of shock than enjoyment or amusement.
The show was billed as “part documentary as Suzanne’s mobility informs the work.” I have always found Suzanne’s dance performances for Touch Compass to be both highly inspirational and joyous. This show however seems to highlight a distinct physical inability and an emotional dissatisfaction.
So suitably challenged, what inroads can I make as a viewer to connect to this work?
The programme states that the six events of Curham’s Ghosting series exist as independent projects (this show is Part 6). Each sets out to explore concerns in a variety of situations, culminating in a performance outcome, as well as challenging and revitalising the work and finding a new pragmatism.
What is pragmatism in this context, I wonder? One definition is an American philosophy centred on the linking of practice and theory; a process where theory is extracted from practice, and applied back to practice to form what is known as intelligent practice.
The friend I went with has seen some of the other Ghosting series and says this is the most fully realised of the lot. She refers to a statement in the programme that says: “So the aims are serious but we want people to have a good time, and to be challenged. It should be fun, a little scary and at times even beautiful.” She says she felt all of those things and so thought it had achieved itself.
Yes – it was a work of “frightening joy, horrified anxiety and rapturous sound” but as a first time Ghosting viewer, I am just plain lost and a little confounded. No easy feat for someone who has really seen a heck of a lot of stuff.
We quickly high-tail out of there, a little eager for a soothing hot chocolate to warm us up after weathering such a dark show in stormy conditions.
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