Tuna Mau /Eel Man
22/11/2013 - 22/11/2013
Silo Park, Wynyard Quarter, Auckland
Oceanic Performance Biennale
22 Nov 2013
The Black Widow - Carol Brown
The Bride in White - Georgie Goater
The Woman in Red / Hine / Tamaki - Sophie Williams
Elvers - Seidah Karati, Nancy Wijohn, Becca Wood.
Child / The Boy in Black - Cassidy Scoones.
Site-specific/site-sympathetic , Outdoor , Dance ,
Mobile sculptural forms evoke local connections
Review by Jonathan W. Marshall 30th Nov 2013
November saw Auckland host the first Oceanic Performance Biennial, an event which mixed discussion by scholars and senior artists together with emerging and experimental performances. Mark Pulsford for example projected animated curling lines from a live computer system onto a pair of young dancer-choreographers for Pacific Skin, whilst Charlene Tedrow and dancers presented a short outdoor piece dealing with possession in Spiritus Aitu.
Alongside these developmental pieces was a presentation from the now seasoned group Movement Architecture Performance (MAP), led by director-performer Carol Brown and designer Dorita Hannah.
Tuna Mau essentially reworked previous outdoor MAP works Tongues of Stone and 1000 Lovers (see http://www.doritahannah.com/#!commercial/ctzx; http://www.carolbrowndances.com/projects.php?pid=79; https://www.theatreview.org.nz/reviews/review.php?id=5713; https://www.theatreview.org.nz/reviews/review.php?id=5731).
Brown et al have developed a striking basic framework which can be reconfigured in different spaces, taking on different nuances of meaning. Brown characterises her work as carrying or generating a “place” within the locale being used, rather than being site-specific theatre, which would imply that it is the location itself which generates all of the crucial elements of the piece. Brown’s work by contrast acts to install something within a location, gently carving out a set of relations and feelings within a site already evocative on its own terms.
The site in question was the Silo Park of the Wynyard Quarter along the recently redeveloped Auckland docks. Key features which took on a poetic quality through Brown’s performance included the geometrically precise spaces beneath and beside the old concrete silo towers, the long, open-framework steel walkway, which soars overhead and parallel to the waterfront, and the now well-established, reed-filled creek/culvert running through and alongside the grassy Silo Park lying in the triangle created by the structures just listed.
Brown and Hannah employ a stark, simple design to give the work a strongly spectacular quality—ideal for a mobile outdoor performance, where the location, proximity, and even make up of the audience is unpredictable and subject to change, as wharf-side wanderers move about. The colour scheme is based principally on monochromatic black, white and red, with counterpoints in the form of green and yellow. Indeed, the luxury of cloth, its sheen or striking depth of colour, was at times a focus of the piece.
Certainly, what meanings could be gleaned by the audience from the movement activity was in large part derived from the costuming. The characters could be readily identified as the Widow in Black (Carol Brown), the Bride in White (Georgie Goater), the Woman in Red (Sophie Williams), the Boy in Black (Cassidy Scoones), and a trio of B-boy/grrl style followers or watchers in glossy green flowing coats, reflective sunglasses, and yellow head-scarves (Seidah Karati, Nancy Wijohn and Becca Wood).
Conflict and interaction similarly occurs along this schema, with black and white standing off against each other as the dynamic develops, arms projecting from one woman into the space of the other, as their bodies arch forward and backwards away from, or towards, each other. The Widow in Black similarly engages in a tug of war with the Woman in Red over a strategically placed length of rope, which appears on the lawn of Silo Park, creating another diagonal of backwards and forwards movement at an angle to the horizontal line of the main path running along the waterfront.
Our green B-boy/grrls move amongst the reeds, following the other women, before carefully removing their gumboots, unzipping their billowing coats, and adopting B-boy stances, or dashing behind the lead duo.
The Woman in Red eventually unfurls a huge train of glowing red cloth in her wake, later bearing this up onto the flyway overpass and dropping it down, Rapunzel-like, to connect the statuesque positioning of the full cast above us to the audience’s own level on the ground, towards the end of the performance.
Audience attention is in part maintained by the issuing of MP3 players to each formal observer prior to the performance, each playing in unison a score composed by Russell Scoones. I was not greatly taken by the music myself, a pleasant enough series of isolated, rising and falling cello notes, laced in reverb within a large sonic space imparting a generally neo-Romantic ambience, and intercut with equally echoing isolated vocals and other sound effects and processing, before moving into a simple, dub setting. Structured essentially through the reworking of the sonic material provided within the first few minutes, the sound has a tendency to become static and lacks anything especially distinctive in how it progresses over time. Certainly, the complexity of electronic delay and spatialisation which the best of NZ digital dub like Pitch Black achieve is not present here (http://www.pitchblack.co.nz). Moreover, ear-phone delivery reduces the possibilities of a highly textured or dense deployment of sonic material. Scoones does at some points layer and distort the vocals, aiming for something akin to György Ligetti’s dense sound webs such as are best known to lay audiences from the score to 2001, but alas I barely noticed this through the headsets and am only able to appreciate this aspect by re-listening to the score online (https://soundcloud.com/russellscoones)—one of the drawbacks of even the best headphone delivery systems.
Having bought to the newly issued soundtracks by the film-maker couple the Cantrils (see http://www.acmi.net.au/media_chromatic_mysteries.htm; http://www.arthurandcorinnecantrill.com/), who deploy found, altered and sampled recordings made in the bush, I cannot help wondering if a sound design along these lines might have supported the sense of locational dissonance which Scoones and Brown were aiming. The Cantrils’ work takes sound from a recognisably natural or organic poetic space—indeed, Scoones himself suddenly introduces birdsong into the last two minutes of his own score—and something more of this nature could perhaps have provided a more distinctive counter-point to the harsh industrial surfaces and structures visible within the Wynyard Quarter.
Having said that, Scoones’ composition serves its function within the performance extremely well. Headphones ensure that the assembled audience is clearly set apart from those who might simply wander into the middle of the space, all of us inhabiting a shared acoustic realm which lies parallel to, but apart from, normal social space.
Seen in these terms of space and location, the choreography of this wordless performance might be characterised principally by the generation of pathways, by an axial or lineal push or pull, or by coils, spirals and elevations of various degree, as the women curve around the end of one or more of the lines which are created between them, whilst other trajectories cross at right angles or parallel to such virtual corridors stretching from one distant actor to another. As such taught connections over a distance evolve, the audience typically becomes strung out in irregular clusters beside or about these lines and forms, constantly in the process of trailing behind or anticipating forward and backward movement. Additionally, some of the short choreographic sections which evolve later in the piece do produce a certain level of physical, as well as spatial, complexity: notably the stuttering, nervous arm movements of the Widow in Black and the Bride in White.
Other images evoke something closer to a narrative. The title references the tragic love story of Hine for the Tuna (eel), the anchor-rope fought over between the Widow in Black and the Woman in Red (Hine) evoking this snaky, watery creature. The piece concludes with the Woman in Red / Hine moving to the steps which run down to the water at the left of Silo Park, and forming a human statue, gazing out across the sea. One end of the rope is tossed into the deep, and Tuna’s blood comes to stain the water, clouds of red slowly dissipating within the muddy channel.
Program notes inform us that the B-boy/grrls are apparently “elvers,” and their passage through the reed-filled creek does suggest such a piscine transit (the audio recording reminds us intermittently that it is their “time to make the crossing” and join their lover). In contrast to the more visibly thoughtful and emotionally dynamic Women in White and Black, the elvers and Hine have a tendency to act as mobile sculptural forms, Hine / the Woman in Red staring out into the middle distance, whilst the more active elvers tend to hop into crouched arrangements, or cross arms and pose, arms akimbo. Hence whilst evocative on some level of a character-based drama, the performance is more spatially and visually forceful than it is narrative.
The elvers undress down to black underwear by the waterside, underpinned by a now single, held droning tone in Scoones’ score (shades of La Monte Young perhaps; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yfZzz58VUaw), whose gentle sonic coils and returns supports the slightly mystical ambience of the finale well. The cast are left standing motionless, looking out at the water.
Whilst it was slightly disappointing that the dramaturgical logic of disrobing and of watery descent was not carried out to full logical conclusion in nudity, or the performers swimming away in the icy waters, practical considerations for a public outdoor performance at a working harbour doubtless made this impractical. Nevertheless, the final tableau served as an eminently satisfactory conclusion.
Overall, this is a strong, adaptable production; another feather in the cap of Brown and her collaborators.
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