• Restless Dance Theatre's 'Private View'. Photo by Matt Byrne.
    Restless Dance Theatre's 'Private View'. Photo by Matt Byrne.
  • Restless Dance Theatre's 'Private View'. Photo by Matt Byrne.
    Restless Dance Theatre's 'Private View'. Photo by Matt Byrne.
  • A scene from Streb Extreme Action's 'Time Machine'.
    A scene from Streb Extreme Action's 'Time Machine'.
  • A bit tame: 'Extreme Action Heroes' in action.
    A bit tame: 'Extreme Action Heroes' in action.


Restless Dance Theatre
Odeon Theatre

Reviewed March 9

Elizabeth Streb and Streb Extreme Action.
Her Majesty’s Theatre

Reviewed March 14

The first program of Ruth McKenzie’s tenure as Director of the Adelaide Festival has a strong dance component. As well as the opening night’s Baleen, created by Stephen Page and featuring a huge whale skeleton on Glenelg Beach, the season includes commissions for ADT, Restless Dance Theatre and Jacob Boeme, as well as Akram Khan’s Jungle Book Re-Imagined, Dance North’s Wayfinder and Elizabeth Streb’s Time Machine. It has to be said, however, that these works vary greatly in quality.

A hall mark of Restless’ Dance Theatre’s work under the direction of Michelle Ryan has been its sensitivity to site: while Private View is not a site-specific work, Renate Henschke’s brilliant design makes imaginative use of the black box Odeon theatre. The concept for the work comes from creative producer and dramaturg Roz Hervey, and its theme of the longing of people with a disability for intimacy is introduced in the foyer, where audience members can listen to poignant recorded interviews and messages on three phones. When we enter the theatre proper, rows of seating are positioned along one side with individual swivelling stools in the centre. Three sides of the space are occupied by a large screen and several screened platforms. The screen displays a close-up of heavily made-up face, eyelids encrusted with blue glitter, whispering seductively. This turns out to be the face of Carla Lippis, who is not only singer and composer, along with Geoffrey Crowther, but a superb cabaret MC who links the segments of the work together.

Each platform lights up in turn to reveal a different scenario: the Romantic lover, played exquisitely by Michael Hodyl, sets the scene with candles, roses and music for a date that never arrives; his voice-over and dancing convey his flirtatiousness, hope and disappointment eloquently. Venetian blinds open onto another platform offering us a glimpse into a bedroom in which two young women pose and flirt on a rotating bed. When one leaves abruptly, the other has recourse to an "intimacy hotline". Some slight risqué questions addressed to the audience generate a bit of anxiety, but are never too confronting.

Another scene has a lonely woman undressing in despair as Lippis tenderly serenades her, and finally a couple of young people are revealed to be flirting on their phones under the surveillance of a watchful dad. This turns into tumbling routine as he tries to separate them, to little avail.  Private View is entertaining and thought provoking, offering a glimpse into the very normal desires of those with disability for erotic connection and love. It’s a work of terrific theatrical craft and great integrity.

Sadly, I cannot say the same of Elizabeth Streb and Steb Extreme Action’s Time Machine. New York-based Streb has been making experimental, acrobatic dance since the 1970s, and Time Machine is a compilation of this work. As we enter the theatre, we hear a recording of Streb recounting anecdotes from her long career. The voice-over continues as the curtain rises but shifts to her reading out reviews praising various of her past shows. This self-indulgent patter continues intermittently throughout the entire work.

The show starts with the nine performers doing circus-type tricks on a giant half wheel that they rock by re-distributing their weight. As they leap on and off the apparatus, they shout out numbers and instructions. Billed as "Extreme Action Heroes", the nine performers are dressed in brightly-coloured action hero tights and tops, and this in-your-face attire matches their insistent exhortations to the audience to applaud.

Various stunts on the giant mat covering the stage follow, including a falling wall stunt borrowed from Buster Keaton, a foam roller walking exercise (a staple of Pilates classes), another silent movie stunt in which one performer almost sideswipes the rest with a plank, forcing them to fall flat on their faces and backs. The sequence in which two women, joined at the waist by a piece of elastic, are drawn together and apart, recalls the schoolyard game of elastics. It all ends with a lengthy, complex routine on the trampoline, which is the one highlight.

With a running time of barely 50 minutes and containing nothing that really answers to the claim of "extreme action", one has to ask whether the audience and Festival budget are getting value for money. Australian circus and physical theatre companies are making brilliant, socially relevant work: why import an over-hyped work that is by today’s standards, quite frankly, both tired and tame?


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