News & Commentary, Stage, Visual Arts

Liveworks: the elusive and intriguing experimental performance art festival returns to Sydney

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Performance Space’s annual festival of experimental performance art has returned to Carriageworks for 2017, with a program of new work from across Australia and the Asia-Pacific.

It’s always a little bit of a mystery as to what you might experience at the Liveworks festival, unless you happen to be super clued into the contemporary arts zeitgeist.

But the curation of the works is always strong, and this year comes with the clear directive to #getexperimental. And that’s very much the spirit of the festival: to dive in, trust the curation, and see what grips or thrills you.

This year’s two-week program features plenty of highlights, including the 24-hour durational work The Second Womanwhich was a major talking point at Melbourne’s Next Wave festival last year. In the work, Nat Randall performs a single scene inspired by John Cassavetes’ 1977 film Opening Night, on loop for 24 hours, opposite 100 different men.

Audience members can buy a ticket at the door for $15 and come and go at any point across the 24-hour performance, which runs from 6pm tonight (Friday, October 20) to 6pm tomorrow.

But I saw two other works at the festival’s opening night: Agatha Gothe-Snape’s Rhetorical Chorus and a new theatrical piece by LabAnino, a collective of Australian and Filipino artists, called This Here. Land.

Gothe-Snape has been a significant figure in the local contemporary arts scene, but recently came to the broader public’s attention as the subject of Mitch Cairns’ controversial Archibald Prize-winning portrait. The inquisitive thoughtfulness and subtle wit that Cairns captured in his painting is clearly on display in her own work.

Rhetorical Chorus is a large scale performance work, first commissioned for New York’s Performa Biennial in 2015. It was inspired by an unexpected meeting in 2009 between Gothe-Snape and conceptual art veteran Lawrence Weiner at LAX airport. Gothe-Snape had been compiling footage of Weiner’s hand gestures at the time, which form the basis for this work, exploring notions hierarchy and the meeting of language and gesture.

On a large screen at the back of the stage, we see Weiner’s gesticulations, while choreographers Brooke Stamp and Lizzie Thomson respond to his movements below in an impressionistic way, dancing as the left and right hand, respectively. A small chorus of singers move across the space and perform Megan Alice Clune’s near-hypnotic score, made up of frenetic vocal tics and long drones.

The work sprung out of Gothe-Snape’s improvisational practice, so has a free-falling quality, but is neatly structured, displaying both an intellectual gravity and a gentle sense of humour.

This Here. Land is a rather different work altogether, driven by the audience’s participation, and the characters embodied by a small ensemble of actors.

They bring to life a series of stories about Filipino people at home and living around the world, touching on everything from the Marcos dictatorship, to the experience of a young Filipino man living and partying in the inner Sydney suburb of Redfern, to the murder of drug addicts under Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte, and how ordinary Filipino people have reacted to his reign.

The audience is ushered around the space as the actors use music, projection and even some shadow puppetry created with overhead projectors and sand, to tell these fascinating stories.

There were some logistical challenges with crowd management at the first night, making transitions from segment to segment a little awkward. When those niggles have been ironed out, the work should be able to maintain its momentum and immersive qualities.

[box]Featured image: Kenneth Moraleda in This Here. Land[/box]

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