Sunday 12 May 2019

plenty serious TALK TALK - Physical Theatre Review

What: Plenty Serious TALK TALK
When: 9 - 11 May 2019
Where: Main Hall, Arts House
Created  and performed by: Vicki van Hout
Film performers: CloĆ© Fournier and Glen Thomas
Lighting by: Karen Norris
Sound by: Phil Downing
Vicki van Hout - photo by Bryony Jackson
Another great Yirramboi Festival event, van Hout's plenty serious TALK TALK is being presented at Arts House alongside Daddy. It is an incredibly clever pairing as both are dealing with the question of how a modern Aboriginal of mixed heritage combines their artistic training in Anglo style contemporary dance with the heritage elements of their indigenous ancestors.

Van Hout's conversation asks the huge questions of what is cultural appropriation, where is the line? Van Hout is a contemporary dancer trained in the Martha Graham traditions but, as she points out, Martha Graham is not her heritage so why is it okay if she uses it? On the other hand, why doesn't her Indigenous ancestry allow her to take historical moves and incorporate them into her artistry?

In this instance, van Hout is speaking to the hard line traditionalists - Mr Humble Pie as she refers to him. It is not an easy question or answer because it is always about doors being opened. Van Hout is an amazing dancer and as she demonstrates how beautifully she is able to marry both sides of her skills and traditions, it is also easy to see how people without the ancestry would see this and marvel and want to do it themselves.

Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Does it have a judgement value of this nature and if so how is it protected? Those questions are rhetorical. There is no easy answer and certainly not any someone of immigrant origin such as myself can address.

Now this all sounds like heavy serious stuff, but van Hout manages to make the entire 50 minutes a real hoot! She is as funny as she is serious and from the very first film clip where she is a TV presenter forced to do her own welcome to country. She moves into her live entrance combining stomping for country with lyrical dance, and traditional chanting with nonsense English which shows us she is pulling as many legs as strings of yarn off a conversational ball of wool,

Some transitions are less successful than others, more because they take a long time to reveal rather than that they are inherently flawed. The monologue about Miss Light Tan is one example, where she is basically quoting some sort of review which insists her work is inherently confusing because as a person of mixed ancestry she sits in a space of ambiguity - not unlike cronuts, cruffins, and umbrella ties...

Van Hout messes with us a little bit. Each of her sequences starts in different places - sometimes funny moving to serious and sometimes moving from serious to funny - and she never gives a hint until she makes the shift which keeps us in a delightfully awkward state of suspense and uncertainty.

The most powerful moment for me was the flashing hazard light and person being beaten in captivity which speaks so loudly to contemporary issues around Indigenous imprisonment, but which she then flips to represent her conflict with "TIs" regarding the use of Indigenous dance in her contemporary works. Eye opening in both levels indeed.

One of the great themes which keeps resonating is 'what is the cost'? Van Hout puts dance up for auction early on asking if could she sell a pas de bourre for a foot stomp or a jete for a dirt flick? She ends by asking how much she could get for her Indigeneity? After all, it apparently comes with a lot of 'free stuff'. There are some drawbacks she warns - such as a decreased life expectancy, etc.

Again, it all sounds so serious and it is but plenty serious TALK TALK is also a barrel of laughs. Van Hout takes the reverence out of ideas which should perhaps never be revered beyond question and conversation. Plenty serious TALK TALK was first performed last year at Riverside and I hope it is a show which gets remounted many times across the country.

4.5 Stars

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