Adelaide Festival: Dirtday!

Laurie Anderson. Photo by Lucie Jansch.
Laurie Anderson. Photo by Lucie Jansch.

The Playhouse stage floor twinkles – illuminated by a multitude of low lit candles, a small standing screen promises images, an armchair offers comfortable possibilities; and the stage is set with Laurie Anderson’s music and sound set up.

There is anticipation in the packed theatre. It feels like this festival night is extra special, different in some way. We all wait.

Laurie Anderson enters and her incredible show begins. The expectancy is well worthwhile.

Her violin – small in size, enormous in the hands of this skilled musician / performer whines out its beautiful all-encompassing sounds – mad and calm, slow and frantic, sad and ecstatic, melodic and abstract; emotional always.

With multifaceted sound-scape and slowly changing colours her stories mesmerise; it is the sheer genius story-telling from avant-garde performance artist Anderson that is so captivating. Her almost monotone drawl is calming, rich and beautiful; her stories delightful, simple and so very human.

Beginning with evolution and a take on Darwin’s Theory we are lifted into the skies with crested birds, offered a new dream associated reason for SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) and given a whole new way to look at a life-long journey of dreaming itself.

Bathed in changing colour and enveloped by the incredible ever-changing sound, Anderson (famous in the performance arts world – and with good reason) takes us further all the time, and we stay with her.

There is no forced theatrical performance here, no need to work to rope us in. It is the laid back, natural conversation style – dark with flicks of cynicism and humour and the violin and sound-scape accompanying nearly all which in collaboration is utterly breathe-taking.

We go to a New Jersey tent town – that has sprung up in a forest as people lose their jobs and homes. There is a surreal, end of the world sensation to this story that says much about the have and have-nots of the modern world: the social worker who is not really one and who cries before she finishes her words, the chickens who have returned to the woods and roost in the trees… the sadness and confusion when nothing in life makes sense… anymore.

There are lighter moments also. We meet Anderson’s dog – Lolo-belle, and feel her transform into an almost human character; the greetings on the New York streets and the inner conversations.

Anderson moves to her chair and Lolo-belle’s story continues. The dog plays piano, she tells us. Even put out a Christmas soundtrack or two. And as if we don’t believe her – images of her piano playing terrier are offered up on the screen… and it’s a riotous blast for all of us so fortunate to be here.

And then her dog’s death and her Buddhist departure that follows… lamas shouting words in her ears. Should a dog aspire to reach the heart of the Buddha? Anderson asks us.

I want to go on and on…and on. But I won’t. (Though I must mention – Laurie’s electronically voice-changed masculine character must be experienced to be believed!)

I will conclude by saying that – the Australian premiere of Dirtday! is a performance that I will never, ever forget. Congratulations remarkable Laurie Anderson, and also to the 2013 Adelaide Festival for making it all possible for us.

What a winning show. Bravo!

Stephen House

Stephen is a writer with numerous plays, exhibitions and short films produced. He has been commissioned often and directs and performs his work. He has won two AWGIE Awards from The Australian Writers Guild and an Adelaide Fringe Award (as well as more), and has received several international literature residencies. Stephen has been Artistic Director of many events. He has been performing his acclaimed solo show, “Appalling Behaviour” nationally from 2010 – 2014 (100 shows to date). Stephen has 2 new works in development.

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