Do You Still Think of Me
30/08/2012 - 31/08/2012
Two Nights Only!!!
A new comedy physical theatre performance by Maria Dabrowska, Wellington’s own uber kinetic movement inventionist, and hyper fluid improvisation savant Kristian Larsen.
A deliberately homeless middle class white man and his manically eccentric female companion, find themselves in an abandoned decaying cinema without a reason to leave. Keeping themselves afloat with bizarre rituals and swooning nostalgia, the two characters present fragments of their lives in a way that simply doesn’t help.
Warning: Show features cameos by Johnny Marks and jesus.
$10 unwaged, $15 waged EVERYONE WIN
Wacky theatre refreshes
Review by Deirdre Tarrant 05th Sep 2012
Late night, spacious picture theatre, eclectic crowd, two wonderfully irreverent and disparate artistic thinkers come together for an essentially ‘theatre of the absurd’ performance.
Kristian Larsen provides the MC role with a slide/ talk event that references the Japanese Petcha Kucha format. His own non-sequiturs make sense although set in a seemingly meaningless catch-all sequence that includes a desperate effort to read a poem by John Adams as shoes and balls are flung at and past him.
Dabrowska is a goofy, relentlessly quirky kewpie doll with a logic and determination of her own as she arranges assault, animals, her PC and plots her own life path. Their separate energies are joined by the amazing alter-ego presence of Jonny Marks who emerges as a gargling vocal strangulation from the back of the theatre and revels in joining in. He is the ubiquitous third ‘wheel’ in the relationship and the red-caped duet between voice (Marks) and body (Larsen) is one of the highlights of the night.
A dance duet by Dabrowska and Larsen explores dysfunction and provides another highlight.
We need more of this wackiness to challenge and refresh our take on humanity. Episodic, random, at once dry and gleeful, Do You Still Think of Me? leaves us with something to think about tomorrow. It felt like we were part of a process improvisation, but it was somehow for real in the moment but not so clear about where the road was going? That’s okay late at night.
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Oddball and melancholic lyricism and cerebral calisthenics.
Review by Sam Trubridge 31st Aug 2012
Why not go to a performance at 10.30 or 11.30pm? Why always the safe family hours between 7.00-9.00? There is something deliciously wicked about going to see a show so late. And why do we need to always see work in familiar venues? With the current conservative approaches to venue and festival programming in recent years it is necessary to look further for work that is more than just a repeat of well tried and tested formulae. We need to take more risks. Both as audiences, and as artists. So it is with double excitement that I headed to Paramount Theatre last night at the ripe hour of 10.30pm for Kristian Larsen and Maria Dabrowska’s Do You Still Think Of Me?
This duo of choreographer/dancers have been making work in Wellington and Auckland for many years now. Both have pieces in the Footnote Forte season this Spring. However, it is in independent works like this that these choreographers are able to indulge their style and interests fully, with works like Dabrowska’s Carnival Hound (2009) and Larsen’s So You Think You Can Idolise My X-Factor (2012): a comedy work with Josh Rutter. In many ways this new work is a meeting of those two works and those two styles: Dabrowska’s oddball and melancholic lyricism with Larsen’s cerebral calisthenics.
Larsen continues his study of thresholds between dance and oration in this work, as an awkward self-conscious fellow in a pin-stripe shirt and gym slacks who paces the stage throughout the performance trying on his various physical and verbal affectations. As our compére for the evening, he first welcomes us with a banana, and then attempts a kind of powerpoint/holiday album presentation on the cinema screen behind him. Meanwhile Dabrowska rearranges toy animals on a desk, immersed in the logic of her game as Larsen attempts to hold the stage.
This late performance and the structuring of the work has a sense of cabaret, with interludes for various performance tasks or routines – such as Larsen’s ‘musique concrete’ fiddlings with a bare piano, Dabrowska’s dance solos, a tangled folding duet, and various presentations by Larsen. This seems to be a bit of a trend in experimental dance works at the moment, with recent works by Auckland artists Sean Curham, Cat Ruka, and Sweaty Heart all having a strong sense of the ‘variety show’ in their compositions.
In the 90s, UK group Forced Entertainment and director Tim Etchells held similar routines on stage for endless improvisations, where the agony of producing new material became laden with a curious kind of desperation and exhaustion: almost becoming performance art in the process. But there is not enough of this intent in Do You Still Think Of Me? to really have this impact. Perhaps Larsen’s background in improvisation is too entrained for the work to ever have a declared intent, so committed he seems to be towards responding to ‘the moment’ and vague nuances of performer-audience synergy. And I suspect that Larsen is too smart, too mercurial to let a single idea rest in his work for too long. In one sense this might be his undoing, but in another sense he gives himself over to the performance entirely: freeing it from conceptualisation, dramaturgy, and from literature. In this way it may be defined as a piece of live art-making. Having watched many pieces of this kind of process-orientated performance I can value the ideas, but also find it hard to find engage with.
Dabrowska plays the hostess to Larsen’s inarticulate master of ceremonies. They are an alienated couple, with Larsen’s character almost embarrassed by the eccentric, senile, theatrical traits that Dabrowska displays on stage. His role seems to be that of an (ineffective) voice of reason or awareness: thus trying to make sense of/for her, by regularly explicating or apologising for her more impulsive explosions of movement. In one defining sequence he attempts to read a poem aloud, while she rummages through cardboard boxes: showering him in an endless blizzard of odd shoes, followed by ping-pong balls, and a jigsaw puzzle. It is a beautifully rendered scene, where her disintegrating character collides with his affable determination to maintain a sense of propriety and self-awareness. There is a suggestion here that these characters we have found in this cinema so late at night do have some kind of story, and that if we search hard enough through what Larsen and Dabrowksa have given us here then we might find what that is.
Most ominously, there is a moment when a voice begins in the rear of the theatre – a gurgling vocalisation that could either be from a decent sound system or someone actually in the space. It turns out to be Jonny Marks, who, upon taking the stage, sits himself behind a giant speaker cone, with his voice continuing to issue through the black maw of this box . It is a strange mixture of technology and live human presence that is surprisingly unnerving. This is possibly the most charged presence on stage for the performance. It certainly becomes the most strenuous, when Marks emerges from behind his box for a dance/voice-off with Larsen, both dressed in red capes. Marks’ long exhale and his vocal decrease into a red-faced and spittling gurgle is powerful. It is a shame that Larsen had to punctuate the end of this moment with a deprecating remark, but I guess it was also inevitable. This seems to be the nature of improvisation, where comedy is easily created through providing contrasting sentiments or changing direction in this way. While it produces very self-conscious performance, it may have also been Larsen’s role to spoil this moment for us, as much as we may hate him for it. And so we may perceive a distinction between a role and a character – with the performer either taking on the ‘role’ as a job or objective within their actions, as opposed to the ‘character’, which is a person or individual they pretend to be.
By contrast, Dabrowska seems completely absorbed in character. Her character also seems to be absorbed in her character as well. So it is quite satisfying and exciting when she finally speaks. It is a voice as demented as one would expect from the disjointed, angular movements that she has stitched across the stage in several sequences, but it is nonetheless a haunting completion of the trio of vocal styles presented in this work: Marks’ guttural elocutions, Larsen’s rambling, and this whispering and slightly manic eulogy to a lost innocence. These are three disparate, dissonant characters, stranded in a cinema late on a Thursday evening: a garish, awkward cabaret, a Pecha-Kucha* of affectations. The various interludes of dance throughout the evening contrast Dabrowksa’s crooked arms, staggering, swaggering and sometimes elegant sweeping of limbs with Larsen’s self-conscious posturing and ideation. By contrast, Larsen never quite seems to give over to the work he is making, coming across as a banker who, in his late-thirties has decided to learn contemporary dance. This may be his role in this performance, with his constant ramblings and non-sequiturs, such as his final analogy that ends with the punchline “Manchester is not ‘ere muthafucka”, a rap song, and exeunt.
It is quite bonkers, and probably doesn’t make any sense. In this way it may achieve Tim Etchells’ notion of ‘teasing’ the audience: “teasing them with meaning, teasing them with narrators and central figures who would appear to be helpful but who would really say little to guide them through this mess” ** I was outraged when I saw Forced Entertainment’s own Bloody Mess in 2006, and bemused by their Exquisite Pain in the same season. But these works have now become personal highlights. Perhaps what NZ artists and audiences need to know is that it is sometimes valid, or okay, to have negative responses to a work. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the work has failed in some way, nor does it mean that we have failed either.
While my own preference may be for works that are more conceptually structured or arresting, it is important to stress that Do You Still Think of Me? reaches for such different goals from most. There is a common propensity for drama and dramaturgical narrative in mainstream performance today that prejudices audiences against other forms of communication, preventing works from being read in the abstract terms familiar dance and visual arts. I would not want to let this work of the hook completely, because there is much room for development, and it does seem a little too clever and abstruse without focus or direction. But it is also necessary to point out that if we want to have a richer art scene in New Zealand then we need to support works of this kind that rebel against the usual prescriptions of time, space, funding, form and content. In the end it is Larsen’s amazing risk-taking as a performer that really propels this work towards something different, even if he comes across as a bit of a smarty-pants. Be at The Paramount Cinema at 11.30pm this evening to see where it will end up tonight.
* Pecha Kucha is a presentation and event format started in Japan. Guests are allowed exactly 20 slides in their talk, with the slides set to advance at 20 second intervals. The Japanese word for ‘chit-chat’, Pecha Kucha is a globally networked event with regular programmes across the world.
** Tim Etchells (1999) Certain Fragments: Contemporary Performance and Forced Entertainment
See also: review of earlier version of this work in development, Feb 2011
Copyright © in the review belongs to the reviewer