Zenobia Frost reviews Under the Radar’s fifteen.
Brisbane’s Liesel Zink choreographs this public dance work, fifteen, which blurs the lines between audience and participant, theatre and public space.
To get my biases out of the way, I admit that dance is an art form that I’m still learning how to appreciate. Zink’s A Collection of our Various Selves (at Metro Arts in 2011) was one of the first dance works that I really got — that really moved me. Zink continues to connect with her audience in powerful ways in fifteen, which takes place amidst foot traffic on Queen Street Mall. We, the “official audience”, wear headphones, while others on the mall might catch a glimpse of the show; stare determinedly ahead, oblivious; stand and watch, confused or entranced; or, unnerved, take an alternative route.
Putting headphones on transforms the landscape. While passers-by can look on, with your ticket you are purchasing the imagination needed to change Queen Street Mall into a theatre. For the first 10 minutes, we almost meditate on the view: any of these milling commuters could be the one that starts the show. Most of these pedestrians are oblivious to the focused, antenna-sporting crowd. Yet sometimes, when they do spot us, we become the show — an installation, perhaps, of aliens.
The dancers (Sammie Williams, Tyler Hawkins, Robbie O’Brien and Liesel Zink) appear from nowhere, camouflaged in casual clothes and iPhone earbuds. Their movements evoke the patterns of our daily to-ings and fro-ings: waiting at the bus stop, checking phones, making small talk with strangers, taking the train at peak hour.
Over Mike Willmett’s soundscapes, narration explains the premise: this show explores personal space in public settings. The public unwittingly becoming part of the performance as they stroll, barge, stride and stumble through the space. And the performers extend the “theatre” as they move away to cross at the lights, round a corner, or disappear behind us.
The opening sequence, with its electronic soundscape, brings to mind the milling-commuter scenes of late 80s tourism and educational documentaries. This is less a criticism than an observation — and it gave a certain cynical, voyeuristic sheen to the show that I appreciated. I found the narration a little more intrusive; O’Brien’s monologues describing the monotony of the scene before us, while eloquent (“condensed sentiment”, “tides of thought”) could have been bolstered with more movement. Still, I can’t argue with the implication that we should more mindfully observe our natural (however urban) surrounds.
The best moments occur when the public, oblivious to us, engages with the performers directly. One man chats to Zink; another, seeing a collapsed Williams on the ground, sits with her, concerned. In our realm, a tourist taps an audience member on the head to ask where to get headphones. It’s these timely coincidences that make each showing of fifteen a new fascination. In our strange island in the centre of all this, we think on the ways we behave and interact in public. We bristle, we gasp, and we are utterly engrossed.
FIFTEEN runs at QUEEN STREET MALL (at the corner of Queen and Edward) until Sep 14, 2012. www.brisbanefestival.com.au
ZENOBIA FROST (@zenfrost) was, until recently, the arts editor of Rave Magazine. She is a founding member of OffStreet Press and is fond of strange myths, incisive verse, theatre, graveyards, tea, and editing.