When you go down to the woods today… reviewing Dark Mofo

Here in Tassie we’re just the other side of the (in)famous Dark Mofo Festival. The event brings around 25,000 people into town from interstate and overseas. It’s really the only festival in Australia that brings a diversity of people out to see contemporary art in such enormous numbers. Not the plastic commercialised pop, empty fireworks spectacles, but the seriously wierd, sometimes deeply complex and often obscure kind of contemporary art.

I was lucky enough to get a gig this year reviewing works in the festival for the newspaper. It was a very different reviewing experience for me. Previously I’d been writing for an arts industry digital publication and a very arts savvy reader. Reviewing for the newspaper meant sparser text and the challenge of distilling experience into half the word count I was used to.

I saw a lot of shows across performance art, music, dance and theatre. A couple of the works were truly incredible. Some brutally disturbing and others the kind that will stay with me for a very long time.

Here are some thoughts on a couple of my favourite shows. Would love to hear from you if you were there too!

Take This For It Is My Body

SJ Norman

Government House 

This performance work, created by S.J. Norman, is a powerful and intelligent artistic experiment. Simultaneously dark and macabre, complex and layered, it cracks open the difficult tensions between our Indigenous and colonial histories.

You are greeted at the gates of Government House and led past the grand entrance to the main building into a much more modest coach house nestled in its gardens. There you meet the first of three female Aboriginal performers, dressed as servers, and you are asked to take your place at the table. The performers wait patiently, as passive and seemingly unseen as they would have been as workers in this house in the 18th and 19th centuries. However, there is an underlying defiance to the considered actions of the tea ceremony and we are soon to discover why.

I won’t give the game away (much of the work’s power relies on the moment of surprise) but each person at the table is asked to make a choice. In doing so each participant becomes a symbol of the difficult conversations happening at a national level about embodied Indigenous trauma, of difficult histories and the haunted residue of it in our blood.

The setting, a powerful symbol of Colonial architecture, creates another evocative layer. The feeling of being haunted by the questions of belonging, power and privilege stay with you long after you leave its grounds. 

A special mention must be made of the Governor, Kate Warner, who welcomed this provocative and difficult work to be staged in her residence, the site of so much difficult and cruel colonial history. It’s a sign of a healthy democracy.

Take This For It Is My Body is an experience that will stay with me for a very, very long time. 

Photo- Elliot Hughes

The Dirty Three

Odeon Theatre

The much anticipated 25 year anniversary  tour of their self titled album did not disappoint when The Dirty Three played in Hobart. ‘Afternoon Tea With the Dirty Three’ was the kind of virtuosic instrumental mayhem that made you believe in music again.

The journey from intimate accordion ballad to the kind of fully embodied thrashing violin that frays the strings and has the crowd in rapture is what makes this band so great live. 

Punctuated by the amusing stories of a well lived Warren Ellis, a wild hellcat from Ballarat, the performance is warm and generous. Drummer, Jim White, whose stamina has not dented in 25 years, drives home the thumping heart of the album and the dynamic between White and Ellis is a joy to watch. Mick Thomas on guitar brings a studied cohesion and together they are in fine form. 

Age does not weary The Dirty Three. Their rebellious freedom and passion to experiment and play is as present in their music as it was in 1994. Their energy on stage, their ability to connect with the crowd and their playful sense of mischief isn’t fading anytime soon. Go and see them. 

Photo- Kath Melbourne

Costume

The Odeon

Costume is the persona of local Hobart writer and bookseller Adam Ousten, who looks very different outside of his full-length red snakeskin jumpsuit, bouffant Mohawk and dramatic make up. This show is a debut of his first album, Pan. It’s one of the great examples of Dark Mofo’s support of local work premiering in this years festival. 

If you’re a Generation X’er with fond memories of the heyday of electronic pop then you’re going to want to experience Costume. I say experience because seeing Costume live is not like going to see a band- It’s a stylishly constructed performance filled with luscious costumes, layered set design, a seriously complex lighting rig and a troupe of masked dancers. 

The stage design is a highlight; it’s a sophisticated art pop video clip coming to life. It’s a bit like early Duran Duran and The Cure collaborated with a Bauhaus designer. It’s crackly, smoky and angular, and the costumes have shoulder pads. The choreography is precise and every moment is considered.

Despite a few technical difficulties at the start of the show, the performance was mesmerising and unique. Costume’s performance is engaging, stylish and distinct. Special mention needs to be made of the extremely talented Hobart based violinist Natalya Bing who brought emotional and musical high notes to the work. Catch Costume when he performs next, or check out his album Pan https://www.costyoume.co.

Other shows I loved:

All This Coming and Going -Terrapin, Teatret Gruppe 38 (Denmark) and Trickster-p (Switzerland) 

Cassil’s Tiresias– part of A Forrest

Shilpa Gupta’s For, In Your Tongue, I Cannot Fit Also part of A Forrest

The Irresistible Presented by Side Pony Productions and The Last Great Hunt as part of Dark Mofo

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