Saturday, December 08, 2012

Gaga: the unmentionable. Written and directed Louise Tu’u. Review by Kristian Larsen.
‘Gaga: the unmentionable’ was presented at The Old Folks Association Hall in Gundry Street Auckland as a second iteration of a previous performance at Galatos last year. This version, conceivably a development of last years event and/or a stand alone work with its own poetics, laws, and purpose was performed by Lafitaga Matua, Nisha Madhan, Ilasa Galuvao, Leki Bourke Jackson, and Louise Tu’u. Gaga rendered an intriguing schema that gave me plenty of scope to survey and form my own semiotic interpretations that, for better or for worse exist in a strata of personal bias and naïveté.

Gaga presented a series of themed vignettes underscored by a sincere sentimentality toward family and culture. Most of the ideas appeared to be affiliated with each other , and the word ‘language’ could be used as a kind of echo - locator to read context, meaning, and make connections between the islands of material. I did find the ideas relationships to each other at times elusive, occasionally bridgeless. Within Gaga’s composition Tu’u’s distinct materials behaved collectively more like a floating bricolage than an iteration. For me ‘iteration’ suggests a succession of approximations that build on the one preceding to achieve a degree of accuracy. For me Gaga didn’t direct itself toward accuracy, rather it opened up a large field of connotation to play in.

Gaga seemed preoccupied with playfully teasing and destabilizing status by toying with theatre protocols and deploying a subtly irreverent tone towards various cultural mores. It achieved this through the overall compositional design of the piece, the set, light, sound, and the performer’s delivery of the material. The audience were seated in a transverse configuration facing each other. Performers sat amongst the audience, entering and exiting, whispering to each other for cues. This combined at the beginning with two men offering each audience member and each member of the cast a hot towel both charmed the situation, and set up what was to be a continual hot swapping of performer / audience status throughout the evening.

Madhan lay on the floor making a snow angel on a thin mattress of white flour. A gradual whitening of Madhan’s dark skin seemed to inadvertently nod towards a denaturising of cultures, the ‘whitening’ of language and custom. This was emphasised and layered via many subtle and overt signs; an almost pre-adolescent delivery of Hip Hop beat boxing and Sesame St. gesticulation, a brief monologue about a lo-fi white extension cord of great import, white factory overalls acting as both signifier and subsumer of identity within a local industrial job market, Barfoot and Thompson real estate signs facing away instead becoming white blank placards denying the fiscal value of community, powerful dance music played on laptop speakers filtered into tinny parody, and a noticeably conventional lighting design that seemed altogether deliberate and oddly lacking in irony.

Tu’u’s monologue in Finnish initially threw me, as I was expecting Samoan or English. Her childlike attempts at handstands (chorused by the rest of the cast) were reminiscent of Brazilian capoeira where the inverted body is sometimes considered analogous to constant polarising change in the world. The attempts at inversions foregrounded an aesthetic of childlike physicality repeated in all of the scenes. This quality of the child was at its most vibrant in Lafitaga Matua’s dancing. However the constant prevalence of the childlike physicality in the performers’ demeanours undercut any potential gravitas. Comic tones constantly soaped and rounded off any potentially injurious sharp edges in the material.

The imagination of the child was celebrated in a scene where a piece of cloth was played with and transformed in a game of absurd pretend between Ilasa Galuvao and Madhan, the presence of adulthood refusing to be itself continued to sit in the work like a layer of deliberately ignored dust. Leki Bourke Jackson’s scene in which he wrote a letter as an old man to the contemporary Santa of capitalism, Oprah, asking for a third car also sat in this territory. On reflection I feel that I’ve missed something here. What was the nature of the childlike tone, and what was it doing there in the piece? Did it have aesthetic function or was it more reflective of Tu’u’s general demeanour in the studio workshop process in turn flavouring the casts’ delivery?

An even rhythm and lack of urgency in Gaga threw up a connotation of ‘island time’ and occasionally the pervasive tone of playfulness came slightly undone. In one scene Tu’u overtly made the theatricality of Gaga transparent with the line “We need to get this desperate,” whilst Galuvao self consciously implored the audience to perform a Mexican wave. In that moment I had a sense of the performers trying to disperse a not yet built tension.

Despite Gaga having the appearance of a play, it gradually revealed itself as a real situation involving actors playing themselves as actors, engaging in a series of scenes and improvisations within an interstitial realm of performance where the audience knew them as real people. Occasionally the performers revealed that they hadn’t actually explored the territory of an idea much beyond looking at a map of it. Madhan seemed to be the most equipped to work within these conditions, and it was this as well as Matua’s ability to steal scenes (all the while maintaining a sense of being Tu’u’s mother) firmly anchored some of the interactions.

Gaga: the unmentionable sits congruently within a spectrum of performance currently establishing itself as a kind of ‘new’ orthodoxy of performance making in Auckland at the moment. The piece doesn’t concern itself with delivering meaning hand over fist. It seems as concerned with its own internal processes as it does with dialoguing with its audience in equal measures. The piece reveals Tu’u’s instincts and intelligences as a maker and I find it easy to trust her work. As a consumer of her art I have one sentiment in particular that emerges as a personal desire. What I want from Tu’u’s work is exemplified by the line “We need to get this desperate.” Even if I misheard the line and made it up in my own head, its one thing amongst a generous armload a takeaways that I got from this mindful piece of performance. Thank you.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Thanks Clown

After seeing 'So You Think You Can Idolize My X-Factor', a learned colleague of mine offered Josh and I a workshop in clowning in order to make our work better. I was too polite to tell him to fuck off right then and there, I sat on it. Then I sent him a message that was far too polite...

Dear xxxx

I very much appreciate your attendance at my show with Josh, our first comedy. It was a kind of fun and kind of a terrifying pleasure for both Josh and I to try a new genre of performance in front of an audience of learned colleagues. 
Your offer to workshop Josh and I was generous and much appreciated. For sure, when I attended your workshop in 2007 I became much more educated about clowning and very much was 'put in my place' with regards to my very limited abilities as a performer within another context and tradition.
I have taken your offer very seriously and it is in the spirit of that seriousness that I both decline the offer and feel it pertinent to offer a reason why. 
An essential consideration for Josh and I in our connected practices is a deliberate naïveté in the face of a perceived set of deeply conservative pressures. 
As clowning itself, in its evolution responded to socio political and econo cultural pressures, so do Josh and i in our own explorative way. We are 2 poor artists trying to make work outside of the deeply boring norms of our learned discipline ( contemporary dance).
Classicism (cultural) is often wielded as a a weapon of oppression. And it is in the spirit of contemporary debate about "failure" in performance that josh and I choose other priorities. 
We're a bit clown like. But we are not performing as clowns. We are naive practitioners of contemporary stand up comedy. This is an artistic decision. 
You're precision as a classicist within your base of training is deeply inspiring. 
Thanks again for the offer. 
We are trying to have more fun. I hope that you are having fun also in your realm of creating
Hugs K

polite...I thought this was a nice way of saying "No". But the response I received was incredible...

My lovely friend,
Your arguments contradict itself. It is like saying: We want to be without being... Delving into clowning would making your work more of what it is. There is nothing to lose... Surrendering to tradition and discipline (classicism as you say) would make your work far more powerful... The politics of the work are lost because of your inability to surrender. But it seems that you are confortable by not taking resposability.... Don't mistake poverty in art with misery in art. Failure is a very precise art and denotes a great dose of humility. Your message is just a big excuse. The whole email smell like FEAR. You are so afraid of what I said that you rationalised a lot and wrote this long blah blah blah... Afraid, like that day you encounter the clown technique for the first time... That day was a revelation and you need more of that... 
As your friend, as someone who loves you profoundly, I am IGNORING all you wrote (the academic jargon), go back to Josh and decide when we will have the workshop... Very soon because my daughter is coming next month...

I found this staggeringly pompous and superior. And yet I still couldn't bring myself to be blunt. So I wrote back...

Dear xxxxx 

Thanks for replying, I appreciate your honesty, it woke me up. It made me question myself more ruthlessly. After taking inventory I have found this much to be true;
Essentially I wrote too much in my 1st message, maybe to try to sound impressive, maybe using words that are natural for me, 'jargon' to you. I was being way too polite and perhaps this 'FEAR' you seem to have observed is actually a fear of telling the truth. For me my experience of clowning (or any other practice )was never about clowning, it was about honesty. And o here I will be simpler, and more honest. 
What is true for me is that I would not do what you did to me after my show. I wouldn't offer you a workshop in order to help you make your work 'better.' Because it would implicate that I would be somehow placing my self / my practice /r my knowledge etc as superior to yours. I don't see myself as superior to you but I feel that your offer of a workshop belies a personal conceit that my work would be better somehow if facilitated by you. But I am not one of your students. 
My truth is that I am gravely offended at your presumptuousness, and this offence has been multiplied by some of the assertions in your response. Fuck that. 
The issue isn't about clowning, or skill, my inability to 'surrender' or any other of your personal 'observations', a style of observation perhaps habituated from doing a lecturers job. Its about honesty, and also about respect. Respectfully - I don't tell you how to do your job, on stage or in any context, I simply don't presume to know better regardless of my opinions about your work. 
Sadly I have no memory that you have ever once genuinely asked me about my work, not with any real sense of curiosity or desire to fully understand its context, roots, and direction. But I once paid around $600 to find out yours. I prefer to learn through conversations with my peers, not lecturettes. 
I think underneath it all your intentions are good. 
Be well


I think Josh and I will eventually make another performance. We can't help it, we're a pair of shits who like to dance.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

So You Think You Can Idolise My X-Factor !!!!!!!(!)!!!!

Josh Rutter and Kristian Larsen triumphantly springboard back into action from lagging careers to present a live chat show/game show! Come and share some milk and a song whilst J & K fun you to bits with games, halal meats, and punishments!! Learn from our Practical Post-modernism segment, flex your performance interpretation skills in a game environment, and be amazed as our two anchors create naive theatre !! 

13th and 14th April (Friday and Saturday) 8pm at The Old Folks Association Hall, Auckolandia, NZ


Cheap wine etc

Friday, February 24, 2012

Man o man

Dance Like a Butterfly Dream Boy made by Josh Rutter
This work is roughly the third or fourth incarnation of a growing set of ideas around performance, masculine identity, rituals, and physical culture that Rutter has been working on.  Incorporating 13 men in workout clothing (many of them artists and /or affiliated in some way to contemporary dance circles) the performance is set on a kind of anonymously featureless old helipad.  

Butterfly Dream Boy keeps a steady level of pressure on its audience via its absurd imagery and shonky transitions. Grotesque calisthenics, advertorials for crap male cosmetics and gladiatorial battles where violence never actually manifests make up some of the ritualistic games and protocols that the group performs. The audience laughs a lot but the piece is not a satire. Rutter is having fun but he’s also perfectly serious about his Weird Dude Energy.

I spoke to one woman who’d seen Butterfly Dream Boy after the show. “Now I know why some women become lesbians.” Harsh call but not as harsh as some of the male rite of passage rituals that Rutter was researching in the lead up.  Those rites of passage are actually a deeply important aspect of being male. Without them we become lost boys. Rutter’s work brings out how we try and fail culturally to find those rituals. We try to find those missing aspects of being male through physical cultures like sports, through drinking, through fighting and posturing.  A lot of that shows up in contemporary culture and points towards the misguided and disconnected condition that many men exist in currently.  

Another audience member pointed out there was no brown skinned men or Asian’s in the work. Aside from the fact the cast were all part of Rutter’s immediate social circle, it could be argued that Western white skinned males are the ones who are lacking the most in terms of spiritual groundednes. Especially as many of us find ourselves part of a growing underclass made manifest by the economic rip tide relentlessly pushing the divide between rich and poor. Many of the cast are artists themselves and as such exist in a confusing binary as a kind of privileged underclass. It’s this confusing status that is embraced and celebrated in Dance Like a Butterfly Dream Boy.

Kristian Larsen
(Writer bias includes but not limited to being one of the performers in the cast of the show, being a close friend of Josh, and feeling a bit jaded about being an artist currently)

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The New Performance Festival Auckland

I along with  three other writers from different disciplines have been asked to write four responses to four new performance works in The New Performance Festival. Conditions are that the writings are between 300 - 600 words and must be written within 24 hours of seeing the performance. The intention is to find common language between the four writers. The first of my writings appears below.

The Politics of Distraction: I am a Wee Bit Stumped

By Kristian Larsen

This performance collaboration between NZer Mark Harvey and Sweden’s Johannes Blomqvist poured drily over the entrails of the life of an artist within the context of a broader fiscal narrative. Taking place in a conference room so benignly alienating and Gervais-like it threatened to usurp all genuinely creative endeavours, ‘I am a Wee Bit Stumped’ used many physical materials at hand – seminar props, coffee machines,office stationary, hideous chairs and a cannibalising of its own audience (esp. in the intelligently constructed opening sequence involving a long queue & ‘class room’ type activities ).

Repetition is a common device in Harvey’s domain and it showed up reliable and ready for a good nights work in this duet with Blomqvist. Repetition was threaded into an intentionally exhaustive act of lifting a table up and down whilst delivering a monologue. Harvey talked and grimaced his way through a vocal thread covering the common absence of mortgages and children in the lives of other artists that he'd met internationally. For me Harvey's efforts in that solo reactivated Blomqvist’s earlier story about an Uncle (?) who still works at a factory making cupboards for IKEA - met his wife there, holidays at the same beach
in Majorca every year for 25 years.

Personal stories were delivered in bland but engaged tones whilst performing disconcerting tasks. Earlier in Stumped Harvey was squirming along on his belly with Blomqvist lying on his back talking about something. But I can’t remember what he was going on about because the entire audience including me seemed so utterly focussed on their own distraction that they temporarily cared nothing for the performers. This non-caring shifted audibly when it seemed Blomqvist was about to rain a box of hole punchers down on Harvey’s head from on top of a ladder.

The consistently bland delivery of the text seemed to falter in a closing section where Harvey adopted a thinly veneered theatricality. But maybe it was intended. Shades of Kafka in a minor chord as Harvey unseen side stage interrogated Blomqvist about what was in his back pack, where he’d been, and if he did drugs.
This section reminded me that I was watching a show, whereas prior to that I had felt immersed as a participant in an event.

If I was to reduce this complex and rich work to a three word byline I’d say something like ‘Bureaucracy Destroys Art’ although paradoxically this work appears to have been generated in part by adverse bureaucratic conditions. But as artists (and many others) are continually conscripted into activities that serve and feed larger economic machinery it’s interesting to examine what it is that we are left with. At one point in the show some doors were opened which inadvertently revealed the post performance remnants of Sean Curham’s work shown just prior to Stumped. Both of these shows had left behind a big bloody mess.

Thanks Johannes and Mark for the coffee and cake, and for 120 minutes of your time at $10 a head.


Things that Move Me Created and performed by Oliver Connew - NZ Fringe - BEOP Studios , Mt Eden, Auckland - 2017 Dear Olive...