Tuesday, October 14, 2008


At last, a blog review by Chloe Smethurst, not previously published elsewhere!

Concept by Helen Herbertson and Ben Cobham, Direction by Helen Herbertson

Shed 4, Docklands, Melbourne

October 13, 2008. As part of the Melbourne International Arts Festival

It’s good to get away from the major performance venues once in a while, to venture into an unknown space without adequate heating or sound insulation. It makes performance feel somehow more alive, real, special.

Even just getting to the venue for Sunstruck is an adventure. With all the road works and development going on, the Docklands area is still largely under construction, its character yet to be ultimately defined – a fine setting for experimental theatre.

The sense of journey and arriving at one’s destination is heightened as we enter the huge warehouse, with the offer of warm sake or green tea to take the chill off the Melbourne spring air. When the dividing tarpaulin is drawn back, the circular performance space becomes visible at the far end of the shed. Lit by a single yellow lamp, the two dancers, Trevor Patrick (pictured) and Nick Sommerville, stand within a circle of chairs, awaiting our approach.

As the small audience is seated, the first of many aural shifts occurs - the stereo which was playing the ‘foyer music’ begins to move toward us, emitting the first part of Livia Ruzic’s soundscape. The dancers stand in the glow of the suspended lamp, eyes closed, drinking in the warmth like sunshine.

Both lamp and sound continue to move around the space throughout the performance – at one point the light is shining directly in your eyes, at another, rolling, shushing waves are right at your back. The ambient sound is also a special feature, the cry of seagulls and squeak of rusty hinges providing punctuation to moments that would otherwise be silent. But for me, the most effective use of the space is the final piece of music, played in darkness by Tamil Rogeon on violin and Tim Blake on cello. With Rogeon in the distance and Blake seated amongst the audience, they play a melancholy call-and-return melody that perfectly mirrors the mood of the performance, their notes echoing off the tin roof.

The choreography is difficult to define, often more akin to acting than dance. Which is perhaps why even from the beginning, it’s unfortunately clear how great the divide is between the skills of the two performers. While Sommerville’s emotions play over his youthful face like cloud shadows on a windy day, Patrick is much more subtle, and certainly the more commanding, experienced artist. Sommerville expends his energy running circles and rolling on the concrete floor, but Patrick is able to evoke characters, memories, love and loss, less through his face than through his whole being.

Under Helen Herbertson’s direction, the piece is structured something like a dream half-remembered, or a future half-imagined. Foreign dialogue and nonsense sounds play around the edges of the action, which comes to light in fragments. It’s an interesting experiment, and certainly a memorable experience, but probably not Herbertson’s greatest work to date.

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