RL9A3215_web

OPINION | Jonathan Marshall responds to Steamworks Arts’ Trigger Warning

Posted by Thom Smyth, August 23rd, 2016

In the next installment of our Opinion section on the blog, we’ve commissioned Dr Jonathan Marshall, Senior Lecturer at WAAPA, to provide his thoughts on Steamworks Arts’ recent interdisciplinary performance Trigger Warning that premiered at the Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts last week.

In her account of choreographer Douglas Wright’s production Black Milk (2006), Suzanne Little notes that the piece begs “the question of how does one, or indeed, should one represent the ‘real’ suffering of others in artistic works and to what ends?” Director Sally Richardson’s collaboration with Cat Hope (sound/music), Hayley McElhinney (performer) and Joe Lui (lighting) insistently raises the same question to the point that this would seem to be the central topic of the production itself. The achievement and strength of Trigger Warning as a piece of performance art therefore lies precisely in the manner in which the piece confronts the audience with such problems. Convincing strategies to deal with these representational and critical dilemmas mark sections of the work, but I would venture that no entirely satisfactory solution can in fact arise, so one is left with questions. Trauma, which is the subject of this production, lies at the margins of what it is possible to represent, and hence it is unlikely it can in fact be accounted for or even fully dealt with via art. Trigger Warning asks us to consider this conundrum.

The production uses a personal account of violence and survival as a springboard to explore the traumatic more generally. The authority of the witness and the practice of retelling is foregrounded. McElhinney stands forward and slightly to the left for much of the piece, resting in front of a microphone into which she slowly and hesitantly relates events, pains and questions. She parallels however the witness Ka-Tzetnik from the Eichmann trial, who famously passed out in the stand unable to deliver any more testimony. The unadorned nature of her tale, its recurrent enunciation, and her only partially successful attempts to go further than a simple literal retelling, dramatizes both the power of testimony, and its limits. True horror remains somehow unspeakable even as it is given voice.

Testimony is therefore insufficient in itself. The central conceit of the production is to translate diverse affective states into sonic, musical and scenographic effects. Hope plays electric bass and electronics, at times offering a low, grainy noise which reflects the grating nature of the testimony, whilst at other points heavy metal / industrial music rifts seem to break out of the pain to signify transcendence and pleasure. McElhinney holds the microphone in the air in something like a moment of self-destructive ecstasy, as the sheer force of the aesthetic response here takes us far from scenes of literal violence. Lui has a grid of lights behind the performers pointed at the audience, and these flash and move in lines, adding luminal drumbeats, or moments in which the harsh glare of affect and its electric beams seem to burn away everything else. These moments of oscillation between where sound and light represent pain itself, before becoming something else, serve as the highlights of the performance. Some of Trigger Warning’s most subtle moments occur in the delicate nuancing of these transitions, as where Hope sings quietly, poetically and with a hint of tragedy into her own microphone, adding the merest of accompaniment with her guitar.

Despite the centrality of voice within the production, such aural poetry seems untrustworthy at almost every turn. McElhinney’s speech is inflected by a range of accents. After I had seen the performance, I read in the program that the original speaker had survived the Balkan wars. The phrasing however places us within the US or Britain. Trauma here becomes a horrific, fantasmic space which infiltrates all others. In a particularly affective monologue, McElhinney describes the city which one of her characters inhabits, one which is utterly and irredeemably corrupt. Trauma moves here from a warzone experience, or one particular in its nature to women (again, the program notes that the piece came out of initially exploring women’s trauma) to become the Existential state of contemporary modernity. In the lands where airplanes can collide with buildings at any time, where pandemics threaten, where human movement across borders has been reclassified as a threat rather than escape, traumatic anxiety infects our every moment.

I have therefore two concerns myself regarding the production, despite its manifest technical virtuosity and supremely effective staging as a sound and light event. The first of these is how explicit should the representation of traumatic states be, particularly when there is a very real possibility of actually traumatising the audience on some level? As Little and others have noted, to depict trauma can in some sense make one complicit with those who first inflicted it. There is an extended passage, presented to the audience as in-your-face direct address, which outlines in detail and at length acts of sexual violence. The audience is thereby placed in the position of the rapist, being spoken to by his (or her) victim. McElhinney’s character delivers this flippantly, as though to suggest the tale is too appalling for even her to fully acknowledge, which somehow makes it worse. I for one wonder not only whether one has the right to position the audience as a perpetrator of sexual violence, but more specifically what one possible outcome there is for actively upsetting the audience through such an address? I know of at least one audience member who was deeply disturbed by this material, and at least in this case, I do not think that anything positive eventuated from producing such a response. The issue is of course a very difficult one, and everyone’s threshold to hearing such material is different. This is therefore a question which it is not only I who ask, but which the production urgently asks of its audience members and of itself. I will be interested to see how or if this scene is modified as creative development continues.

As a trained historian, I also query the stripping away of cultural and historical specificity. By making it impossible to place the events or emotional states depicted here within any particular site of violence, be this the Balkan Wars, the invasion and occupation of Iraq, S11, or domestic abuse, the piece becomes more of an Existential exploration of the contemporary zeitgeist as inhabited by Western subjects today. This is of course a fascinating and important topic in and of itself, but the program blurb suggests the artists began by seeing the piece as a work of political commentary. Without a clear target, even in an abstract sense, I am not sure how Trigger Warning functions in this manner—which is not to say that it does not, merely that it remains an open point. Perhaps it is best to think of Trigger Warning as a response to the wave of increasingly abstract and unquantifiable wars which we have been waging over the last 50 years: the war on drugs, the war on terror. Perhaps Trigger Warning shifts us into mounting a new war on trauma, fought in this instance through sound, light and text; a battle of affective mourning and aesthetic intensities.

SOURCES
Suzanne Little, “Re-Presenting the Traumatic Real,” in Alexandra Kolb, ed., Dance and Politics (2006).
Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem (1965).
Shoshana Felman & Dori Laub, Testimony (1992).
Monica Casper & Eric Wertheimer, Critical Trauma Studies (2016).
Cathy Caruth, ed., Trauma: Explorations in Memory (1995).

BIO
Dr Jonathan W. Marshall is coordinator of postgraduate study at the West Australian Academy of Performing Arts, Edith Cowan University, Perth. He and Cat Hope are the supervisors of Sally Richardson’s PhD at WAAPA. Jonathan has published on various matters related to trauma and hysteria (see https://edithcowan.academia.edu/JonathanWMarshall). His monograph, “Performing Neurology: The Dramaturgy of Dr Jean-Martin Charcot” is available through Palgrave Macmillan and Springer.

Filed under Sally Richardson


164Sensorium 141106 Jessica Wyld

CALL OUT | Work with Sensorium Theatre

Posted by Thom Smyth, May 17th, 2016

THE COMPANY
Sensorium Theatre is seeking a Performer to join our eight-week regional WA tour of the sensory theatre production Oddysea, with the potential for ongoing engagement with the company beyond this project. The tour will commence on 1 August and finish on 23 September.

Sensorium’s mission is to improve the lives of children and young people with disabilities by sparking their imaginations and enabling greater creative responses. We do this by creating high quality immersive workshop and sensory theatre experiences that they can enjoy as audiences.

Currently the only company in Australia making work for this neglected audience, Sensorium Theatre have recently performed at flagship venues: the Sydney Opera House and Arts Centre Melbourne. This year we are touring Oddysea regionally and have a national tour secured for 2017.

 

THE POSITION
Performer – Ideally you would be a multi-talented performer who is passionate about storytelling and inclusion, and are committed to socially-engaged arts practice. We work as an ensemble delivering workshops, performances, and professional development sessions for venues and teachers.

While you will receive full instruction on Sensorium Theatre’s performance and workshop methodology, experience in this area will be looked upon favourably. The production includes puppetry, singing, and participatory performance – click here to watch a video about Oddysea.

 

HOW TO APPLY
We require a one-page cover letter and your resume. Your cover letter should outline why you wish to work with Sensorium and how your experience will contribute to a successful production and tour. Shortlisted applicants will then be invited to audition. Applications close COB Fri 27 May. Send applications to Sensorium Theatre’s producers Performing Lines WA – details below.

Producer contact: Rachael Whitworth
rachael@performinglineswa.org.au | 08 9200 6232

 

KEY DATES
Fri 27 May  | Applications due
Fri 3 June   | Shortlisted applicants notified
Fri 10 June | Auditions
Aug – Sept  | Rehearsals and tour

Filed under Sensorium Theatre


Good colour pallette!

microLandscapes | Next Wave Festival

Posted by Thom Smyth, April 25th, 2016

The team for microLandscapes have arrived in Melbourne!

Choreographer Emma Fishwick and dancers Ella (CO3) and Niharika (Chunky Move) spent last week rehearsing at the beautiful Abbotsford Convent. These guys know how to groove their way through a busy week, check out the pics below!

Don’t forget to grab a ticket to the show if you’re in Melbourne. microLandscapes is happening at the Northcote Town Hall 4-8 May. Next Wave will get your tickets sorted!

IMG_7885

Melbourne. We’re coming for you! See you soon Niharika!

 

Going a little coffee crazy!!!

Going a little coffee crazy!!!

Home for the week.

Home for the week.

Little bit exhausted!

Little bit exhausted!

Good colour pallette!

Good colour palette!

Shall we dance?

Shall we dance?

Niharika is groovin'

Niharika is groovin’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

————


Oddysea by Sensorium Theatre. Image by Jessica Wyld Photography.

Sensorium Theatre National Tour 2017

Posted by Thom Smyth, April 7th, 2016

We are very excited to announce that Sensorium Theatre have received the Australia Council Playing Australia grant! This means Oddysea is hitting the road with a national tour in 2017.

Oddysea is a sensory performance for children with special needs. Inside an ocean installation the audience is led through an underwater adventure where touch, taste and smell are as important as sight and sound in the storytelling process.

Building on the success of their 2015 tour to Arts House Melbourne and the Sydney Opera House, Oddysea will head to eight venues across Australia in 2017 for a nine week road trip to regional areas in  South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria and New South Wales.

 

10995372_940535709318925_5544552899529601169_n

The Sensorium crew have had a busy couple of years with Oddysea, in a few months they will be touring through Regional WA with thanks to BOOST Funding. Our main marketing man Thom along with Frankie and Michelle from Sensorium just wrapped up a pre tour in Kalgoorlie, Merredin, Esperence and Geraldton to meet the venues before they arrive in August and September.

 

 

WA Regional Tour Dates 
Workshops and performance details will be announced soon.
10 – 12 August | Koorliny Arts Centre
17 – 20 August | Cummins Theatre, Merredin
24 – 27 August | Queens Park Theatre, Geraldton
31 Aug – 3 Sep | Mandurah Performing Arts Centre
7 – 10 September | Bunbury
14 – 17 September | Esperance
21 – 24 September | Kalgoorlie

 


MOVE ME PTT 1920x1200

MoveMe Festival

Posted by Thom Smyth, March 24th, 2016

Five days of new Australian dance, right here in Perth.

MoveMe Festival lets you experience an arts festival in a radically new way. One pass gets you into all the main events as the Festival transforms the State Theatre Centre of Western Australia for a week of big new shows and big new ideas.

Ausdance WA, Co3 Australia, Performing Lines WA, PRAXIS and STRUT Dance have teamed up to bring you the best new dance shows right here in Perth.

Performing Lines WA are very excited to present Dark Matter by PRAXIS – a stunning multisensory dance installation featuring 5 dancers in a constantly shifting world of digital projection mapping, a pulsating live score and over 1000kg of rice!!Snapseed_1

Check out these snaps from the Dark Matter photo shoot. We had an awesome day with these super talented dancers and the amazing photographer Matt Sav, along with plenty of other helping hands including Laura, Tristen, Alexander, Ian, Thom, Charley and myself (Rachel).

Snapseed_3

Snapseed_2

Grab a Festival Pass to gain access to all the main shows, plus special events before and after each show and a sweet discount at the festival bars.

It’s your festival – get your seats now an exclusive early bird price. Full program of events released July 2016.

Don’t miss out! Get your early bird tickets here.

Filed under Dance, PRAXIS, Uncategorized