Melbourne Festival, the Brisbane Festival and Melbourne Theatre Company have coordinated to support the creation of Complexity of Belonging. It’s the type of work that international arts festivals are terrific at developing.
Falk Richter, writer and director from Schaubühne Berlin (a favourite at recent Melbourne Festivals) and Anouk van Dijk, now the Artistic Director of Melbourne’s Chunky Move, have previously worked together in the Europe and have developed this piece with an Australian cast that’s premiered in Melbourne and will tour Europe next year.
Working with nine actors and dancers, it’s a collaboration where the performers contributed stories that result in semi-fictional hyper-real versions of themselves on stage. The stories are about finding a way to belong when you’re not feeling a part of your tribe. Looking at Australian culture from an outside – mostly European – eye they include the aesthetics of being a performer, looking or not looking white, not understanding Aussie culture, finding a perfect man, keeping love alive, coming out, religion, Indigenous identification and the despair of having a partner who doesn’t go down on you.
A magnificent seamless curved cyc of an Australian desert makes the stage feels vast. With live projections onto a screen happening concurrently with dance and monologues, this vastness makes the stories feel somehow connected to a greater whole and isolated.
This contradiction continues throughout the production and varies in its success.
At times everything works together and results in the kind of emotional and technical mind-meld that we hope for every time we sit in a theatre. As performers speak, van Dijk’s mesmerising choreography is like the uncontrolled always-falling-or-climbing inner-chatter that we try to keep hidden from the world, and the screen captures and magnifies the emotions and reactions that are rarely spoken.
Then there are times when the content and the text verges on the banal and #middleclasswhine, especially when the hyper-realised personas are clearly in fictional worlds, and the authenticity is strained. The joy of this piece depends on how the stories are so believable and connectable. They are allowed to fly with the support of the dance, design and great performances, but when the momentum gives out, there’s too much room to crash.
And still, I wonder if this in itself isn’t part of what makes the rest of it work. There is a lot of banality in finding ways to feel like you belong. I want to see what Complexity of Belonging becomes with feedback of stage time. It may already be a very different show from opening night.