Friday, November 28, 2008

Here, Where We've Always Been

Women’s Circus

Arts House, North Melbourne Town Hall

November 24, 2008

The Women’s Circus are celebrating an important historical milestone with their latest production. Marking one hundred years since most women were granted the right to vote in Victoria, Here offers a glimpse into the struggles of the past, as well an argument for continuing the fight into the future.

Set in a 19th century laundry where legions of women pound, scrub and sweat for minimal wages in the steaming suds, director Nadja Kostich illuminates the difficult working conditions of women in that era. The atmosphere of the laundry is cleverly evoked by the huge group of performers who fill the space with heaving, repetitive movement and sounds.

From the drudgery emerges a sense of sisterhood, as the somewhat fractured narrative unfolds to tell real and imagined stories of women and women’s suffrage in this state. The performers climb on and support each other physically while a historical voice berates these “he-women” who would “de-sex” themselves through their involvement with politics.

German wheels roll like giant cartwheels, carrying suffragettes as they collect signatures for petitions, while other scenes are more abstract, including well executed trapeze, aerial tissu and rope routines. The action is accompanied and enhanced by live music and song, pounding percussion alternating with melancholic melodies under the musical direction of Irine Vela.

There are significant differences in skill levels within the cast, but Kostich manages to highlight the strengths of each performer, creating some powerful moments for soloists and the ensemble.

Unfortunately the show is in need of more judicious editing. The pace is often depressingly slow, which, while historically accurate in terms of voting rights, doesn’t make for good circus. Snippets of projected video and animation aren’t given enough time or space to develop, while issues with sound mixing and voice projection mean that some spoken lines are unable to be heard.

After years of agitation for change, the eventual outcome for women in Victoria was a positive one. Yet the ultimate message of this production is that for many others around the world, there is still a long way to go in the fight for equal rights.

First published in The Age newspaper

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