Thursday, June 27, 2013

Alzheimer Symphony by Justus Neumann

By Lucy Wilson

It was exciting to attend the packed preview of Justus Neumann’s latest production, Alzheimer’s Symphony, which he performed at his home on Bruny Island (Tasmania) in his handmade painted tent, on the eve of the tent and set being disassembled and shipped to Vienna for the 2013 Austrian tour.

Alzheimer’s Symphony is the latest in a string of productions created by this long term and ongoing collaborative team, which periodically gathers on Bruny Island from Switzerland, Austria and Hobart to create their shows. With the authenticity and experience of this ensemble, they’ve come up with a compelling formula for whimsical machine theatre, which invariably involves a Shakespeare play.

This time King Lear is performed by a famous elderly actor, but he now suffers from Alzheimer’s and forgets his lines. Nor can he remember the names of his sons, or that he’d left his specs in the toaster.

As the audience witnesses his passion; his fumbling and delightful forgetfulness; his angry confusion and despair; we were taken on a ride of edgy hilarity, awe and compassion.

The character is set in an intentionally neutral world – is it an old people’s home? A hospital? Or his house? This is left open to interpretation. Wherever he is, his brain function and physical world has shrunk around him. He is now constrained to a wheel chair, with everything he needs ingeniously tacked onto it. The set created by Greg Methe is delightful. It’s the stuff of dreams. It transforms from a magical kitchen to a bathroom to the grand stage, even a solo game of ping-pong, to serve the daily rituals.

The construction of the show is deeply layered and rich with metaphor, which allows the audience to float attentively through. It was refreshing to see Shakespeare portrayed in a comical flow of crude props, which is only possible through a deep and playful understanding of the text.

There was a natural affinity and integrity of performer Justus Neumann, a man in his senior years, doing a show about Alzheimer’s. The show gave an intimate window into a condition that affects so many Australians. It was totally believable and had strong intimations of immortality.

Written and performed in German, the show is set for its Austrian tour. For the preview there were English subtitles projected onto a wall, which combined with the visual were easy to follow and very satisfying in understanding the story and the drama. For a possible Australian tour though, it would be enlightening to have the script transcribed into English.

I won’t forget this performance. I hope!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Things in the Sky – Celebrating the Solstice in Hobart

By Elizabeth Barsham

It's the longest night of the year – and Hobart was ablaze with light. The program for Dark MoFo, our Winter Arts Festival, invites us to "Celebrate the Dark through large-scale public art, food, music, light and noise." Indeed! Well, they're right about the large-scale public art. It doesn't come much larger than a fifteen-kilometre high column of light generated by forty nine specially-made searchlights aimed at the zenith, with interactive soundtrack to match.

Spectra from the photographer's
this is my contribution to the genre
Ryoji Ikeda's Spectra [Tasmania] must be the most visible and the most thoroughly photographed work of art ever to appear in Tasmania. Here are some of the favourite viewpoints:

On Friday night Spectra was joined by Patricia Piccinini's controversial Skywhale.

I have never been a fan of Piccinini's work, but Skywhale, despite the jokes and adverse comments, turns out to be strangely moving.

Skywhale is a hot-air balloon in the shape of – well – sort of a whale, adorned with enormous, pendulous breasts and a fan-shaped tail that could well be claws. After dark it seems to flicker in and out of existence as the burners are turned on and off. They served only to keep it inflated tonight; it was firmly tethered on the Regatta Ground, giving photographers the opportunity to include it, and a gibbous moon, in their photographs of Spectra

I did not take a camera; some experiences are too vast to be captured by a small machine, and Skywhale is certainly big; standing directly beneath it you realise just how big it is. And how ungainly.

Seen as an assembly of organic curves rather than representing some imaginary beast it becomes a reasonably pleasing pattern of shapes, in particular when you stand beneath the "tail". Such bulbous forms, however, never suggest that this thing was meant to fly. Huge, incongruous breasts weigh it down, the exaggeratedly mammalian body anchoring any higher aspirations firmly to the ground. The contradiction between its visual and its actual weight is extremely disturbing; the great, sad eye and vaguely comic-book features express a deep sense of melancholy, the despair of a creature doomed to failure.

As I watched, the burners turned off and the beast slowly deflated until it was no more than a pile of limp, pink fabric. A premonition of the fate of all large mammals? Or just a playful piece of art? I don't know. So I went off to celebrate the Solstice at the Winter Feast at Princes Wharf and had a jolly good evening.

The ABC took some excellent photographs, which you can see here.