Melbourne Fringe 2016

Sediment, Melbourne Fringe 2016

0 Comments 19 September 2016

Words by Eleanor Boydell

I’m uncomfortable. No no, the seat is fine and the temperature is okay – it’s what’s happening on stage that’s doing it. Watching Sediment, the genre-bending piece of circus, dance and live music by performer/director duo David Carberry and Chelsea McGuffin in collaboration with circus artist Alice Muntz, the tension became unbearable. The relationship of bodies and movements is frustrated and controlling. He is nightmarishly unable to speak; she isn’t allowed to use her voice. Flirtation between performers turns to combat that never reaches resolution. The pace moves anxiously from fast to slow. Her unusual exploration of the trapeze made me cringe at the awkwardness of her interaction with the bar and muscular contortions. His tapdance on sand was like fingernails down a chalkboard. I had to shut my eyes as she tried to escape and he prevented her during the protracted standover moment that screamed of rape.

Don’t get me wrong – their performance is stunning. With stimulating staging and a strongly stylised visual aesthetic in the set and costumes, each tableau is almost painterly. Brilliantly choreographed acrobatic dance scenes were elegantly accomplished, moving seamlessly between fast and slow motion. The beautiful musical score both reflected and directed the physical performance, with soundscapes created from inventive instruments. Carberry and Muntz are skilled and versatile performers who pushed their circus abilities in creative directions, including through a fantastically contortionist foot-to-hand routine, physically demanding trapeze acts, and tenuous balances. Moments of humour lightened the mood, as Muntz arranged herself in a box and cut herself in half, breaking down traditional ideas of the magician’s female ‘assistant’. The whole performance was supported by dramatic lighting design that played with shadow and projection to elevate scenes to something almost ethereal.

Given the inspiration of the show is Dostoyevsky’s Notes from Underground, I imagine I was meant to be uncomfortable. An early piece of existentialist writing, Notes from Underground explores free will and human disposition. Quotes from the text are projected on the screen of an old television set, spoken by performers, and written out in sand throughout the show. “Nature does not ask your permission. She has nothing to do with your wishes.” Certainly my wish for ease and relief was disregarded. We were somewhat jarringly sent from tableau to tableau, perhaps a reflection of Dostoyevsky’s non-linear writing. While the aesthetic tied the show together, it was hard to draw a narrative line between scenes that drew the audience in…and then left us haltingly behind as the show moved on.

I left the show uneasily, unsure of quite what I was meant to be taking from the story. This search for resolution extended the discomfort I’d felt throughout the show. But really, what I think this demonstrates is just how deeply and successfully the performance engaged and affected its viewer. Top marks.

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