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.