Review | ‘WALK’ balances on the edge of performance art and dance

WALK | The Blue Room | til July 23 | ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ 

WALK at The Blue Room exists on the edge of performance art and contemporary dance. The beauty of this kind of work is the interpretative possibilities. No two people will experience this work in the same way, or create the same meanings from it for themselves. If the author is dead then so too is the artist. Some people like to go knowing as much as possible of what they are about to see so that they can make the ‘right’ interpretation.

This is admirable, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that approach. The reviewer who sat next to me making urgent notes in his tiny notebook probably takes this angle, and I bet he wrote a very thorough review out of it. I like to go in cold, knowing as little about the performer, their background, their collaborators, their influences as possible. Perth being what it is this approach isn’t always possible so I’ll admit, I was familiar with the artists Bobby Russell (MoveMoveMove), experimental sound artist Peter McAvan, lighting designer and genuine all round creative genius Joe Lui (The Ugly, plus too many amazing shows to mention here) as well as set/sculpture designer and trans non-binary artist Opie Robinson (Gassed Up). I love to let the performance wash over me and patch together meaning from these impressions as they swirl around in my brain afterwards.

In WALK, Bobby Russell presents three impressionistic dreamscapes that will certainly live on in your brain. The first is all forest greens glowing through the sculptures, gloaming away in the dark corners of the theatre space in a way that is very X-Files Golden Age. In this act, Russell moves with a mercurial quality which seems almost non-human, their costume and lighting combining to create an illusion of monstrously elongated limb. This chameleon nature is most exemplified by the transformation — again aided by costume design — from an animal snuffling at the ground into a widow clad in black taffeta. I’m still not entirely sure how this happened

The second act is a queer medieval rave, and Russell becomes all jerky movements and dislocated joints as a tin-foiled knight. There is a moment in the medieval rave when the knight is vulnerable, where mid thrust they tire and a look of exhaustion comes over them before they are compelled to rejoin the imagined throng of dancers. This one moment is the emotional heart of the piece – it is the turning point, when the mask becomes too heavy and pretending to be someone they are not is no longer an option. Emotional exhaustion gives way to a riot of sequins, tassels and an aquamarine wig as Russell enters the third and final act. Lip syncing to Kylie Minogue’s I Believe in You becomes the ultimate act of self acceptance.

So look – like any good reviewer, I did do my research. It just happened after the show, in a flurry of reading that included a quick lesson on stage lighting. The collaborators have said they are inspired by 80s sci-fi, 70s horror and David Lynch’s iconic series Twin Peaks – and these are all very much present in WALK. There is an inescapable dark glamour that threads its way through the first two acts in particular. It is this agonised camp which makes the emotional release of the third act so much more powerful. The audience is farewelled on a cloud of bubblegum pop with a sneaky feeling that life can, in fact, be beautiful.

While Russell is the sole performer in this piece, the other character in WALK is capital-L Light. Lui’s command of the medium is undeniable. There are lights packed into the small space, from the eight side lights, through the strobes and on-stage LED temple, to the torch as prop. It is not the kind of lighting that is remarkable in its inconspicuousness – this lighting is in your face (and sometimes right in your eyeballs). It is lighting that demands your attention then immediately directs it to the other side of the stage. Over the course of 50 minutes, Russell’s form is revealed and concealed in endlessly surprising ways through the sheer force of Lui’s lighting panel.

WALK is billed as immersive but it feels just the same as any other small theatre production, with the addition of a couple of beanbags thrown on the ground at the front. This seems like such a minor quibble, but I do think if you say it’s an immersive production, the immersive aspects should be made clear to your audience. This is really the only issue I had with this otherwise compelling and emotional production.

WALK is on at The Blue Room until July 30. Shuling Wong will be taking on a swing performer role on the 22nd and 23rd of July, for those who would like to take in a different interpretation of the work.

Bec Bowman

Image: Nicolee Fox


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