REVIEW: Progress Report

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Alisdair Macindoe; photo by Sam Roberts.
Alisdair Macindoe; photo by Sam Roberts.

Waterside, Port Adelaide
Reviewed: August 21

Downstage left: a large fan. Upstage centre: a heap of Styrofoam. A performer—on this occasion co-choreographer Alisdair Macindoe—enters, clad in blindingly white pants and top, and selects a strip of Styrofoam from the heap. As he positions himself in front of the fan, the Styrofoam magically travels up and down his body as if of its own volition. He balances it on various parts of his body, which act as pivot points around which it bends from the force of the breeze. His investigation continues in a horizontal position, as he curves it in arcs around his body. Other Styrofoam shapes are selected from the heap, and the essential qualities of this material, its lightness and fragility, as well as the limits to its flexibility, become apparent as he continues to manipulate it.

His interactions with the foam gradually become more architectural: various shapes are combined, and each composite demands its own specific form of bodily engagement. Some require him to strike static poses; others stimulate a more dynamic response, such as when he rocks on a half-moon shape or walks precariously along a long beam. Elements of breaking and popping creep into the movement palette, executed brilliantly by Macindoe.

This investigative phase ends abruptly. With an inchoate roar, the man throws himself to the ground, and a mass of sounds explodes from his jerking body. He crows like a chook, makes farting noises, growls and splutters to the crackling soundscape (co-designed by Macindoe and Sascha Budimski), all the while becoming more agitated, until, smashing a piece of Styrofoam into pieces, he rages off the stage. From backstage, we hear frenzied sounds of banging and bottles breaking accompanied by muttering and raving, then all grows silent, apart from the sound of his laboured breath.

In one of several changes of persona, he next appears as some kind of Prince of Garbage. Clad in Meg Wilson’s fabulous faux haute couture ensemble, a suit of "upcycled" plastic held together with gaffer tape paired with a gloriously outré plastic cape, he promenades, serenading the audience with a musical instrument cunningly crafted from Styrofoam. With the same courtly demeanour, he treats us to a hilarious monologue about progress that morphs into advertising spiel, then into a parody of online learning in the contemporary university. We are given a straight history of Styrofoam and an exposition on its properties, interspersed with a jolly ditty on pollution and profit. The text, co-devised by Currie and Macindoe, is marked by many such abrupt shifts of tone: thus, information about ecological catastrophe—of which the omnipresent Styrofoam, a substance that simply cannot be made to go away, is emblematic—is juxtaposed with character vignettes of those who don’t want to hear the bad news.

Alisdair Macindoe dances with styrofoam; photo by Sam Roberts.
Alisdair Macindoe dances with styrofoam; photo by Sam Roberts.

This text-heavy scene gives way to an exquisite dance for a plastic bag, performed as a deluge of Styrofoam fragments cascades from the flies. The ending, with Macindoe doggedly trying to scale a Styrofoam mountain, signals yet another of the many roles waste materials plays in the piece; from being useful, as in the musical instrument and clothing, to becoming a gargantuan stack of rubbish that threatens to overwhelm us.

Co-created by Adelaide-based choreographer Alison Currie and Melbourne-based Macindoe, Progress Report was commissioned by Vitalstatistix’s Incubator program in 2019, but stems from a longstanding collaboration between the pair, who share an interest in the place of objects in performance. Meg Wilson’s brilliant costume, set and lighting design, not to mention the industrial waste supplied by Cool Foam, add immeasurably to the work.

Performed superbly by Macindoe on this occasion, and on alternate nights by Cazna Brass, Progress Report is riveting dance theatre that uses humour and whimsy to raise serious issues about our complicated relationship to waste. With its pared back staging, this is a work that could easily tour:  indeed, it should be shown for as long as Styrofoam is with us. 



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