Hipbone Sticking Out Canberra Theatre Centre Wed-Sat July 3-6
There is a buzz to Hipbone Sticking Out; a pieceso contemporary, so situated in this time and place, so packed with ideas and emotions that the air around the stage seems charged with energy and the performance itself pulses with life.
Produced by not-for-profit arts and social justice company Big hArt, this grand piececompletes a trilogy of works generated during their three-year residency with the Canberra Theatre Centre. Although premiering here, Hipbone has its origins in the Western Australian community of Roebourne, where locals collaborated with Artistic Director Scott Rankin as a part of Big hArt’s Yijala Yala Project. The project aims to highlight cultural heritage as a continually evolving entity, which informs much of the frenetic, eclectic mix of storytelling modes that make up Hipbone, including digital image projections, contemporary pop music appropriations, traditional songs of the Pilbara and dance.
Set in 1983 Burrup Peninsula (which loosely translates to the play’s title), the narrative begins with 16-year-old John Pat becoming severely injured after an inadvertent skirmish with police. Unconscious in a police cell, dying, we are taken on a journey with Pat as his ‘life’ flashes before his eyes. Arriving in the 17th Century, it quickly becomes clear that the story of John Pat is not a telling of a singular tale, but an apt metaphorical launching pad for exploring a complex history. Together with the should-have-been present-day adult version of himself, and a guide in the form of Greek god Pluto, Pat traverses Roebourne’s history from the first Dutch explorers landing in Australia to contemporary society. Throughout this journey, incisive, sarcastic and clever observations abound, mocking the ignorance of the colonisers whilst brutally recounting the appalling atrocities which mar our past.
The play maintains a jarring emphasis on self-reflexivity through incongruous popular culture references and direct address, the goal being an avoidance of so-called ‘tragedy porn’; halting a scene for a humorous aside when things seemed to become too serious, or even playful jibes at the Canberra Theatre goers. Eventually, as the layered artifice is gradually peeled away, the raw and undeniable truth became overwhelming as performers wept openly on stage while telling their stories.
This juxtaposition of dark humour and poignant honesty was perfectly balanced to achieve the greater purpose of Hipbone Sticking Out:reclamation. By choosing parody as a storytelling device, an ownership of these events is granted, one which is denied through continual victimisation. A space opens for a new message to surge forth; that it’s not their story, it’s ours. Hipbone demands acknowledgment that Indigenous heritage does not begin and end with the devastation wreaked by colonisation. Instead, itreminds us that this culture is far greater, full of vital stories to be told and, more importantly, listened to.
For the past 15 years, Quantum Leap has fostered young dancers from the Canberra region and beyond. HIT THE FLOOR TOGETHERis the latest full-length work by the youth dance ensemble, which is a part of QL2 Dance. Created in conjunction with the Centenary of Canberra celebrations, the contemporary dance work is a rich collaboration between four choreographers and more than 30 young dancers. A number of the dancers and choreographers involved are Indigenous, with Hit the Floor Together offering an uplifting view on relations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. I spoke with one of the choreographers, QL2 Artistic Director Ruth Osborne, to find out more about this dynamic production ahead of its run at The Playhouse, Canberra Theatre, which kicks off at the end of July.
Hit the Floor Together was set in motion by Daniel Riley McKinley, a previous participant in the Quantum Leap auditioned youth dance ensemble. McKinley, as Osborne explained, ‘wanted to make a work that had Indigenous cultural content.’ A member of the celebrated Bangarra Dance Theatre, McKinley sought to give back to his hometown of Canberra and, in particular, to Quantum Leap. For Osborne, McKinley’s vision presented ‘a chance to encourage more Indigenous engagement.’
Osborne and McKinley have joined forces with Deon Hastie and Dean Cross to choreograph Hit the Floor Together. Each choreographer worked on a section of the show, responding to similar themes. The work has been developed through regular Sunday rehearsals and two intensive rehearsal periods during school holidays.
Ideas surrounding family, landscape and tradition underscore the production. These themes are explored in the context of relations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. Hit the Floor Together is not, however, a show focused on reconciliation or Indigenous rights. As Osborne commented, the choreographers ‘didn’t want to go down the traditional path.’ She added that they wanted to be ‘incredibly respectful’ and, above all, ‘really wanted to bring young people together.
‘We have a lot of young people who may or may not have danced before,’ Osborne commented, as I asked her about the dancers involved in Hit the Floor Together. The diversity reflects the dynamic approach of Quantum Leap, which prides itself on its innovative, creative dance works. Collaboration is the strength of the company, with a number of dancers coming from outside of the Canberra region and partnerships with interstate dance companies. Exposure to different dancers and dance companies enriched the experience for all involved, offering great opportunities for emerging dancers, who range from the ages of 14 to 26.
A work that not only celebrates the talents of young people from Canberra and the region, but also offers an inspiring message about the ways in which Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians come together to learn about and appreciate each other, Hit the Floor Together promises to be an uplifting contemporary dance performance. For the work is, to use Osborne’s words, ‘about looking forward, not backward.’
Hit the Floor Together shows at The Playhouse from Wed Jul 31-Sat Aug 3. Individual tickets range from $20-$28 + bf through canberratheatrecentre.com.au. Session times vary – check the venue website.
EX DE MEDICI is a captivating woman whose stabs at being ‘cold blooded’ fall short. She recently opened a survey show at the Drill Hall Gallery, curated by Dr Jenny McFarlane. eX creates work which is of the moment – socially and politically engaged. As a result, this capsule collection helps remind us of the Australian cultural nodes, now forgotten, that have broken the surface over the last 20 years. The fact that there has been little resolution in some of the scenes she has depicted reinforces her ‘raison d'être’ – that we are complicit and we don’t care.
Or, as eX says, ‘If I were to hope that anything would happen with my work, it would be that we question our own complicity with our government, or with how the media want to frame something … If I were able to provoke them into anything, it would be to be a little more conscious about their own actions. For instance, if people get into the idea of buying shares, they won’t buy mining shares. Or that they might think twice about hearing a debate about nuclear power being green, that “uranium mining is good”. All these things are fed to us and all of a sudden something intolerable is tolerable. So if there was any reaction, it would be to not believe the hype.’
Pictorially what does her protest look like? Surprisingly, it’s not didactic at all. For years, she has presented works that are caged by their beauty. Her detailed watercolours depict guns, skulls, bullets, indecipherable (to some) Arabic text, and shapes evocative of entrails. The images of icons we fear are shrouded, symbolically, with beautiful blooms of roses, Australian iconic flora and creepy crawlies we think might be a bit twee. Like a glossy advert, you are held captive until you see the real crime.
By pairing the ballistic and the benign, ‘it is literally delivering a message in a way that isn’t an instant turn-off. So I make the work acceptable … beautiful, skilful,’ she explains.
eX’s compositions look like a really riotous tattoo sleeve – each section melts into the next and you know it is a labour of love. You find organic materials laced around the barrel of a gun, stars bursting out of a black hole that could be a bird’s bower or a portrait of Cold Chisel emerging from an excavation.
Acting as an Artist Fellow with the Lepidoptera Section of the CSIRO Department of Entomology, an Official War Artist in the Solomon Islands, and having taken annual trips to Iran, eX’s impression of the human footprint on the world is well developed. When you deal in the dark arts, it is necessary to add a little sparkle. I asked if eX favours hyper-real colour, a large-ish scale and a ‘pretty’ cornucopia of symbols to frame her imagery for consumption. Her reply: ‘Yes exactly, it’s like a gelato … There are so many flavours.’
As eX is a CSIRO nerd, I began to think that art practice could take the shape of a very basic experiment. We start with an intention or aim, have an imagined outcome, a level of control, materials of our choosing, and a variable. The result of the investigation takes a physical form, a record, and for the most part you keep repeating your experiment to improve. The artist aims to liberate thinking; we do not have to subscribe to the ‘art of war’ as we know it.
The instruments of war appear often in her work, alongside telltale skulls of the anonymous; ‘It’s not all heroism and it’s not all as it appears. There are the people who design [guns] and the people who decide to make them … Like science in the service of murder – I find it extremely offensive. At the CSIRO, every scientist is heavily engaged with preserving what we have left of our natural environment. They would baulk forever about making something that would hurt people, nature or the environment. There are questions about that power and scientific power. The overwhelming issue is what humans do.’
What I enjoyed about speaking with eX de Medici and appreciating her work was her commitment to get to the bones of her argument. She explains, ‘Yes, I’ll stop when I’m dead … It’s the only thing I’ve ever done. I think sometimes what art can do is position a question in a different way. If art is lucky enough to get some air, it can begin rethinking a paradigm.’
How do you feel when you see cycles of violence or power? eX answers, ‘I think a human is involved … If I can make this comparison in the suffragette movement, where it progressed … to a global level where millions of women got together and talked and said, “What is wrong with us? Why do we cop this shit?” It was probably the most important philosophical movement in the history of humanity because it involved an entire gender. So I am praying for the day when men question themselves about what is wrong with them that they engage with needless war.’
And how did this fly with the women in Iran? World over, she says, ‘Women are a vicious and unstoppable force.’ I’ve got to agree.
eX de Medici’s Cold Blooded exhibition is currently showing at Drill Hall Gallery until Sunday August 11. Free entry.
Blood. Guts. Laughs. 100 BLOODY ACRES is a new horror-comedy film from Colin and Cameron Cairnes. They wrote and directed the film, which follows the story of Reg (Damon Herriman) and his brother Lindsay (Angus Sampson) who run an organic fertiliser business. Problem is, they need a fresh supply of their ‘secret ingredient’ to process through the meat grinder. The rest, as they say, is hilariously disgusting.
The brothers, who shall herein be referred to as ColCam (because it’s almost impossible to distinguish their voices over the phone and ‘that’s what we sometimes get called on set’), have just returned from a stint doing interviews in America. ‘We’re just recovering from a bit of jetlag, just got back from Haawwwllywood,’ the brothers drawl. ‘We’re real movers and shakers, now.’
The brothers have been working on 100 Bloody Acres for years. They say, ‘It gets longer every time we answer this question. Apparently, now it’s been about 38 years.’ But in reality, they had a first draft of the script finished back in 2005.
‘So we’re looking at six or seven years of development, and pre-production and post-production and editing,’ ColCam says. ‘It’s been a long haul. But a rewarding one.’
Horror-comedy can be a difficult genre to wrangle. Either it’s too campy and over-the-top, and loses all credibility as a horror film, or it’s too gory and disgusting, and it becomes too difficult to laugh at the instances of decapitation.
‘There was definitely a challenge in trying to strike a balance between funny and scary,’ ColCam reveals. ‘But I think what was most important was being true to the characters, and being true to the journey the characters find themselves on. It was about … being invested in those characters, and not treating them as caricatures. The humour is really inherent to those characters, and all those weird relationship dynamics.’
It rings true when watching the film. What makes 100 Bloody Acres so interesting isn’t necessarily the scares or the silliness – but the complicated relationship between the quite likeable and unprepared killers, Reg and Lindsay. As the tagline of the film says: ‘They're not psycho killers … they're just small business operators.’
The film has to date had a great reception in America. ColCam acknowledges, ‘I’ve seen a couple of tweets from people saying, “Oh, I’d like to see it again with subtitles”, [laughs] but … but actually, I think that’s what’s going to make it work. Look at the Aussie films that do travel, and they’re often distinctly Australian. They haven’t pulled any punches about were they are from, or what they’re about.
‘And besides,’ ColCam continues, ‘we’ve had to put up with America’s cultural references for 100 years – it’s time for them to deal with some from us.’
100 Bloody Acres will get a limited Australian release from Sunday August 11.