Behind the Façade was the site-specific performance outcome of the third annual Beyond Technique Residency held at Bundanon Trust’s Riversdale property 1 – 8 November 2015.
As Artists in Residence at the Boyd Education Centre (BEC), 18 collaborators from cross Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom lived, ate, bunked, danced, dreamed and created a new dance theatre work across a week-long program of skills development in solo and ensemble practice.
Led by Creative Director, Philip Channells (Dance Integrated Australia) the collaborators from diverse backgrounds and arts practice including dance, theatre, sound design, digital media, projection and film, set and costume design responded to the natural and architectural environment of the Riversdale and Bundanon properties. While referencing Alfred Hitchcock’s 1954 thriller, Rear Window and David Lynch’s Mullholland Drive what eventuated was a truly remarkable outcome which exceeded many collaborators and audiences expectations. And… according to many of the participants was an intense week of hard work and lots of fun and laughter.
The audience were treated to a garden party hosted by the very welcoming aging ballet master, Cuthbert Wellington-Smythe (Sean Campbell) who greeted them with a gentlemanly hand to heart under the blooming jacaranda tree. They met Grace Hermes-Bagge (Kate McDowell) and Jackson Kavanagh (Duncan Armstrong) taking in the fresh country air in the afternoon sun riverside. While the evening grazing began, resting in the shade was Kanga Staghorne (Ben Carn) keeping a firm eye on the passing by resident kangaroos and wombats of Riversdale.
Action began unfolding along the river’s edge with Vera Catherine Haversmock (Laure Bachelot) looking distressed in her full-length satin wedding dress. As the sun went down, a sliding door of the BEC opened to revealed 16 characters standing side by side framed by the award winning architecture of Glen Murkett.
The audience peered through binoculars to have a better look at what appeared to be a ‘suspect’ line up, with all the characters holding their character names on Bundanon Police Dept. ID cards. Above the sliding doors were projections by Arthur Avedon Pasolini (Samuel James) of the characters looking back at the audience looking back at the them.
As the line up scattered, Vera beckoned the audience to follow her to help look for her lost love. Whilst promenading up the garden path towards the dormitory, the characters began inhabiting their neighbourhood, which was dutifully serviced by Maria Helena Vargas (Tess Eckert), a Mexican-born cleaner who the residents seemed to either love or despise.
Eckert’s command of Spanish (her second language) is convincing in this role as she attends to each apartment collecting laundry, cleaning and dusting windows along the eastern block. Maria is the link to all the scenes of this performance skillfully guiding the audience from one side of the building to the next and weaves them with confidence to each viewing platform… cleaning, cleaning, always cleaning as she goes.
Standing with hands in prayer position whilst whispering to a lonely tree, Carlos Spiritanous (Luke Campbell) gives the appearance of being a nature devotee. James ‘Jack’ Noitall (John van Doorn) lurks in his window behind the broken blinds looking back at the audience with binoculars – taking notes of his findings and presumably (if this is the same guy who asked everyone for a parking permit on arrival) making no friends… fast.
Free to move in and around the action, in or out of the bedrooms, the audience perhaps witness the site of a murder. With an unexpected scream by the very tired (I think perhaps she’d had a few too many gins) and longest-standing resident, the Hon. Lady Lyn Gordon-Grey (Lee-Anne Litton), followed by all the apartment doors slamming and a bellowing siren whooping and screeching, what soon unfolds is mayhem amongst the residents.
Battles emerge, which turn the most hostile of neighbours, Jackson (Duncan Armstrong) and Cain Marco Joggernaut (Zac Mifsud) into a waltzing duet. Now arm in arm and smiling, they become the best of friends – at least until the wrestling resumes. Other odd couples join them in a waltz along the corridors and in the apartments, and for the first time we witness a moment of harmony and co-operation amongst the residents.
Dedicated to a life of dance, Betty Bunhead (Katina Olsen) and Silvie Gluehem (Jamyma Baker) seemed to somehow bypass all the enduring mayhem whilst rehearsing all night long for their next neighbourhood performance. At one moment Lady Lyn lays on the floor – tired and lifeless, but still breathing and still clutching her gin-filled crystal glassware.
Accompanied with a small hand held projector, Carlos and Vera are locked into an intimate cheek to cheek dance which is staged in a dark room further along the corridor. James’ large scale projections on the cement wall of the BEC building draw the audience away from the neighbourhood mayhem and is a welcoming reprieve from all the chaos. In this film, the dancers merge into and submerge from the water, stand and stare directly ahead while Carn and Olsen’s characters look on with the embodiment of standing kangaroos before laying together in a comforting spoon position. Maria interrupts the scene by wheeling her laundry trolley to guide the audience to the next performance location.
With the delicate sound of a live grand piano echoing out of the building, composer Ross Bagdazarian (James Brown) and musician Ross Bagdazarian (Dominic T. Rado) playing the same alternating characters treat the audience to a private concert while Maria invites them to peer through the large blinds of the sliding doors. Here she confesses her deep affection for classical music (and gorgeous looking men).
In the final scene, Maria reminds the audience how hard she works for her family and collects their shoes. As they enter a cemented confessional room in the Bundanon Police Station, the characters have returned to their original line up formation. One by one they step forward to share something about themselves we haven’t yet learnt. Vera will soon give up; Maria wants to be reunited with her family; Lyn is very tired; Cuthbert is a very old dear friend of Lyn’s; and Betty is always living in the shadows of her best friend Silvie.
What unfolds in the next scene is a series of comical interludes with the ballet dancers being coached by Cuthbert; an intimate connection between Maria and Jack; and a frivolous game of back to back chasies between Grace and Kanga. The finale is more deeply moving with Lyn now perched on the lifeless Jackson after a tangled struggle. Just as you might experience an Agatha Christie plot, the audience is still intentionally left wondering… “who did it?”
Behind the Façade
Original Concept: Philip Channells & Kellie O’Dempsey
Artistic Collaborators / Performers: Laure Bachelot, James Brown, Sean Campbell, Philip Channells, Jane Fuller, Samuel James, Lee-Anne Litton, Katina Olsen and Dominic T. Rado.
Participants / Performers: Duncan Armstrong, Jamyma Baker, Luke Campbell, Ben Carn, Tess Eckert, Zac Mifsud, Kate McDowell and John van Doorn.
This project was supported by the Australia Council through its arts funding and advisory body; the AMP Foundation and Bundanon Trust. The Beyond Technique Residency project is endorsed by the World Dance Alliance. Dance Integrated Australia is an Associate Organisation of Ausdance NSW 2016 – 2018.