Performing Arts Review: Mona Foma, Hobart

On land, Midnight Oil rocked a town hall full of listeners, as the organs thumped, the art elated and the installations (mostly) bewildered, while above vibrating green lasers scaled of the city streaked Hobart’s night sky like an artificial aurora – we’re talking about 2022 Mona Foma.

Luckily Mona Foma rolled while I was reading The man who tasted the words by neurologist Guy Leschziner. Our five senses are agents of both perception and deception, and the book challenges our experience of reality. Towards the end of the book, Leschziner points out that “how we experience the world depends on the chemical and physical properties of our bodies (…) as much as on the physical properties of objects”.

What is reality?, asked the MoFo. Is the hanger light as a feather with its steely strength? The brutal and murderous brick that dances in the air? The musical note that is green, the chord that is blue, the celestial music evoked in the lowest circumstances? A paradox, certainly. And a wonder.

Read: Theater Critique: Leo/Taurus/Taurus, Blue Room Theater

Rival planes

reality in Rival planes (produced by Stompin) arrives thanks to a large number of white hangers. Two young dancers explore their weight, strength, tensile properties and cobweb-like grip. A tangle of coat hangers is pulled out: the stress of their final break is tense. A large bird’s nest of coat hangers is formed and carried aloft: it looks incredibly heavy, but the brain knows it is light. A bundle of hangers, tight and hard as handcuffs, like chains, dissolves in an inconsequential beat. What is reality?

Sage Price and Jesper Harrison perform the dance work. They also designed, choreographed and made the costumes: it’s an accomplished duo of emerging artists.

Particularly noteworthy is their confident interaction with the audience. “Audience participation” can be tactile even in the most familiar and controlled circumstances: here it is inserted into an abstract contemporary dance piece, without verbal or overtly signed instructions, and the development of the piece depends in several places on the involvement of spectators.

It’s a beautiful thing to see the trust these young performers have in their audiences – and the trust they have in themselves – and how that trust is exercised by their very appreciative audience.

The work is cleverly thought out, finely executed and has been very well received.

Rival planes
Produced by Stompin as part of their mentorship program.
Choreography and performance: Sage Price and Jesper Harrison
Extra Duration Performance: Ashleigh Musk and Michael Smith
Curator/Producer: Caitlin Comerford—Stompin
Sound: Anna Whitaker
Production Manager: Grace Roberts (IO Performance)

Mentorship by Gabriel Comerford, Sofie Burgoyne, Ashleigh Musk and Michael Smith

fertile soil

Somewhat similar in the ground it covers, is fertile soilcreated and performed by Ashleigh Musk and Michael Smith, who mentored Rival planes. Here, the dancers, again with some involvement from audience members, interact with a brutalist pile of concrete besser blocks.

The scraped and brittle inflexibility of the blocks contrasted dramatically with the sinuous ease of the dancers’ bodies, even motionless. Whether serpent or statue, the flesh with its subtle, supple, moving, breathing, pulsating, perspiring, dripping liveliness suggested silk and marble and never the inflexible inflexibility of solid concrete.

Yet how light these blocks seemed in the hands of the dancers, tossing and whirling like dervishes; what tenderness as the dancers crawled towards each other. What is reality?

Letting go of their concrete burdens in the final section, the dancers teamed up in a dance of fluid balance, limbs undulating, bodies grazing, rising, falling, finally, fluidly, rolling. Dirty, sweaty, ripped and bruised, Musk and Smith’s hard work was admired as much as their artistry.

fertile soil
Produced by Stompin as part of their mentorship program
Choreography and performance: Ashleigh Musk and Michael Smith
Curator: Caitlin Comerford—Stompin
Sound: Anna Whitaker
Access Consultant: Daniele Constance
Dramaturgy: Liesel Zink

Quartet for the end of time

In Leschziner’s book, there is a man, Paul, who feels no pain. This may sound appealing, but is of course dangerous, because pain is a necessary danger signal; and the experience of physical pain is also a universal experience that we all share – except Paul.

The French composer Olivier Messiaen also had a sensory “disturbance”, although more benign. His synesthesia allowed him to see colors when he heard sounds.

The realities of Paul and Messiaen are very different from mine and, I imagine, from yours. And where Paul has no experience of pain, that of Messiaen was burning. Written while interned in a German POW camp in 1940, Messiaen Quartet for the end of time premiered in January 1941 at Stalag VII-A. Messiaen himself was at the piano, with fellow inmates completing the violin, cello, and clarinet quartet.

Messiaen described the work as “transcendental”, and it indeed transcends the painful circumstances of its birth. It is music of sublimity created in the midst of desolation.

The work offers each member of the quartet a generous opportunity to shine, and they did. The work features a long clarinet solo. Derek Grice brought a range of brilliant color to his long, sustained notes, displaying both masterful technical mastery and exquisite sensitivity.

I found myself holding my breath through the long cello phrases (Jamy Anderson) in Praise to the Eternity of Jesuss, and again for the intensity of the violin phrasing (Emily Shepperd) in the final movement.

Having already performed much of Messiaen’s piano repertoire, including his two hours cordially from memory, Michael Kieran Harvey (piano) brought all that knowledge and love of Messiaen to this offering, playing from the heart.

Both invigorating on the edge of your seat and breathtakingly breathtaking – thrilling and paralyzing – it was an extraordinary experience.

Quartet for the end of time
Piano: Michael Kieran Harvey
Clarinet: Derek Grice
Violin: Emily Shepherd
Cello: James Anderson

Mona Forma was performed from January 28-30, 2022 in Hobart.