June 3 & 4, 2010
By Anica Boulanger-Mashberg
I’m linguistically opposed to the word ‘vignette’ – it is nonchalantly overused and often carries negative connotations of being superficial or somehow nominal.
However, vignette should also carry connotations of embellishment, elegance, delicacy, and evocative detail. My beloved Oxford dictionary defines photographic portrait vignettes as images with ‘...the edges of the print shading off into the background’. How poetic.
It is with conscious allusion to both the superficiality and the lovely poetry of the word, then, that I say The Age I’m In comprises a series of vignettes which are each a melange of voice-over, soundscape, dance, theatre, gesture, humour, digital illustration, intimacy, and humanity. The cast of ten navigate their way through a series of relationships, narratives, and encounters, encompassing topics as diverse as religion, cancer, adolescence, disability, and motherhood.
These scenes are not as sociologically didactic as they might sound. Some are more concrete than others – the most literal are subtle physical interpretations of the ever-present voice-overs (interviews with the general public about ‘life, the universe, and everything’ which are reminiscent of Aardman Animations’ Creature Comforts), where the performers lip-synch the voices (regardless of age and gender), and echo the words with stylised versions of simple gesture and expression.
One of the most effective of these is the Kirstie McCracken/Byron Perry/Vincent Crowley trio. McCracken and Perry (whose previous collaborations include Lucy Guerin’s exquisite ‘On’, which toured to Hobart in 2007) manipulate Crowley’s limbs so that mundane conversational gestures become a lyrical physical portrait. Other scenes are more symbolic – a lovely sketch of a young girl (Macushla Cross, for the Hobart season) with an elderly woman (Penny Everingham) and elderly man (Brian Harrison); or a whole-cast segment where the voice-over discussion of religion translates into a gentle choreography that plays with synchronicity.
Some vignettes are more effective than others: duets by McCracken and Perry (to the soundtrack of several precocious children discussing finance, love, and the human body) balance laugh-out-loud humour with idiosyncratically graceful movement, while an extended rock-concert-reenactment sequence fails to contribute much to our interpretation of the modern human experience.
The multimedia elements are seamlessly integrated. Handheld digital screens provide visual captions and allow the fragmentation, collage, scanning, and reconstruction of bodies both present and absent. Sitting before a projection of old-fashioned family snapshots, Veronica Neave narrates an effortless and moving roll-call elegy, naming each face we see: ‘the one who fell, the one who dreamed, the one who died last...’. The soundscapes and soundtrack, too, by Max Lyandvert, are almost always in the gentle service of the work, although I sometimes longed for a little more playfulness in the radio-documentary-style presentation of the original interviews.
We are so accustomed to reading dance and dance theatre as texts written by elite physical bodies, but in this work the range of ages and performance disciplines successfully rewrites that familiar text for us, focussing the attention toward the interactions, and a more holistic physicality of the human species.
Director Kate Champion seems content to present us with this series of barely-linked vignettes, relying on their individual merits to carry us through the work. This is where a sense of superficiality detracted a little: the through-line – the notion of ‘the age we’re all at/in’ – is a little tenuous, and doesn’t quite succeed in lifting the series of vignettes into a more coherent whole. But on the other hand, there is that constant beautiful poetry, as the edges of each of these portraits ‘shade off into the background’, ultimately leaving us in a filmic, dreamlike contentment.