Wednesday, 28 March 2018

SQUASH! - Live Art Review

What: SQUASH!
When: 17 March 2108
Where: Melbourne City Baths
Created and designed by: Meg Wilson
Composed by: Belinda Gehlert
Performed by: Ashton Malcolm, Dana Miltins, Josephine Were and Meg Wilson
Choreography by: Kiales-Nadine Williams
Lighting by: Alexander Ramsay

Meg Wilson
Live Art, that slipperiest of all performance forms often comes close to the traditional definition of theatre and SQUASH! is the closest it got for me at the Festival of Live Art this year. A durational demonstration of bravado, brashness and bouncing balls off walls, SQUASH! is a performance created by visual artist Meg Wilson and her ensemble in 2017 and brought to Melbourne for the Festival.

Durational performances have become a 'thing' which were made popular in modern times by the UK company Forced Entertainment. Now everyone is doing it. Personally, I am not sure that many of these performances are informed or add to the audience experience over time, but having said that Landing, which was also taking place in the Melbourne City Baths, is a great example of when durational performance is in the glory zone of form meets function.

SQUASH! is a fairly simple concept. Wilson plays squash over a four hour period with a range of contenders who have a variety of skills. Wilson is a world class competitor (in the women's league of course) and has all the attitude and conceit of most world class athletes. Think McEnroe, Rodman, Kygrios, Williams, Woods, etc.

Wilson is at the top of her game and knows she is the best. She knows she is so good she doesn't even really have to try. She has her own dance troupe cheering her every point, calls for champagne on the court and feels quite free to sabotage her opponents. Whenever she wins a game there is fan fare, flashing lights, room thumping music and she has her own promo video. Oh, and she never takes off her sunglasses because they are a status symbol as well.

It is quite amazing Wilson can have such depth of belief in herself in the face of the running commentary (Malcolm) and a clearly biased umpire (Were). Malcolm litters the games with commentary such as "They should call the women's competition the Duluxe Cup because it's as boring as watching paint dry" and "They are demanding equal pay for women in sports but they're doing less work in tennis - it's reverse sexism!" (Fess up, you know you have thought this yourself.)

In terms of this being a durational work I suspect this lies at the heart of the audience experience - to feel the wearing away of the soul as these comments keep being hurled out again and again. It is also intriguing to have them as female voices. It is a long standing tradition whenever men want to say something really sexist in modern times they find a woman to do the speaking for them. Julie Bishop is a great example, or perhaps just about any of the female commentators on morning TV.

I didn't get to see much of SQUASH! but from what I can tell, I got the point which begs the question of why it needed to be durational. I suspect the only real reason is because the veiwing balcony was so small that only a few people could watch at a time. The option was to crowd in and sweat to death, or to watch in shifts. I opted to try the shifts but then I was dealing with the ever pressing knowledge that other people were waiting for us to leave so they could get in.

I will say this was popular and a lot of fun. Swirling lights, thumping tunes, and the tension of real games in action made for good times when you had the chance to see it. Luckily if you came for SQUASH! you could switch in and out of Landing as well, so it was possible to make a full night of it.

I got to see two games in my two and half hours at the Baths. The first was with a novice, Achilles Heel. Wilson was ruthless and the hapless Heels was able to achieve little but watch the ball whiz by.

The second was a seasoned and skilled male player, Squash Spice. During this game the umpire had quite in a tantrum so an audience member was called in to keep score and Wilson was generally outplayed. Of course, by then she had been on the court for an hour and a half, had drunk a certain amount of champagne and danced a few too many victory dances. This was the time when Malcolm really let rip with the commentary about women's sport.

I have mentioned SQUASH! wasn't especially audience friendly but I don't know that I wanted or needed to see more regardless.  The constant sexism and disdain in the commentary was extremely wearing and I have lived enough of my life with the real thing so I wasn't particularly interested in exposing myself to more of it than I needed to for the sake of 'art'.

My reticence, however, is not a reflection on the work. It had bang, it had razzamatazz, it had balls and peaches and flutter flying through the air. SQUASH! is a wild ride and my reaction to it really just proves how on point the piece is.

Wilson and her team have done well, and SQUASH! sits comfortably within their body of live art work which so far comprises Team Trampoline and You Will Only Ever Be Any Good If You Can Run The Marathon. I am sure you can see the theme here...

3.5 Stars


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