Wednesday, 18 October 2006

Voyage by dumb type, Melbourne Festival, Oct 18,2006

Voyage by dumb type
Melbourne Festival of Arts
Playhouse, Arts Centre, Wed 18 to Fri 20 October, 2006
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

“Voyage really takes you on a trip,” says a member of the Japanese company, dumb type. This performance does seem to have a great deal in common with LSD trips, perhaps more than with terrestrial journeys.

dumb type is a Japanese avant-garde troupe with its origins in performance art and this is still evident twenty years after its inception. Although its founders chose to comment on socio-political issues, the style and form has become significantly more abstract, non-verbal and conceptual now.

Voyage is fascinating to watch for its technical skill, beautiful imagery and complex technology, but the production lacks heart. There is no emotional connection and an audience struggles to make meaning of its series of disconnected vignettes.

It is also a savage assault on the eardrums. The recurrent, roaring soundscape, reminiscent of a jet engine at ten times normal volume, is unbearably and, frankly, dangerously loud. The sound literally rattles one’s bones.

This noise accompanies the opening scene in which, in near darkness, a frail woman moves like an insect in a slow, sustained dance in front of giant, round inflatables. The scene is disturbingly nightmarish.

A more playful scene follows. Two women, wearing miners’ headlamps, are lost underground. Their journey through darkness is represented in contact movement as they crawl over each other to reach their destination. Their quest is accompanied by the sound of stones being raked into pathways by two men.

A woman searches a map under a flickering light bulb then lies across her desk typing airline departures on an electric typewriter. Flight numbers and destinations are projected on a huge screen.

The more lyrical, often mesmerising scenes involve a young woman lying on a blanket on the gleaming reflective surface of the stage. With each new film projection she appears to be floating in a lapping ocean, a snowy mountain scape, fields of flowers or windblown trees. In a childlike voice she wishes for everything she ever wanted.

Another playful travelling vignette is the dance of the air stewardesses. They create a jolly dance set against a stark silence broken only by the clatter of their high heels.

An astronaut floats amongst clouds, snow travellers roll across an icy landscape and the frail woman returns, flailing gently in a dark and alien environment.

Voyage has much in common with performance art and dance but it is the kind of theatre that makes an audience of the uninitiated feel stupid for not understanding it. Why should they?

By Kate Herbert

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