Friday, November 2, 2007

Men of Steel in Beijing: "The Beginning, The Cinema, The Forest."

Men of Steel is an Australian Theatre Company known in some parts of the world only for its first production, “The Beginning, The Cinema, The Forest” (2004). They have performed with big success in Australia (of course), the UK, Ireland and Hong Kong. Now, in Beijing, the company is part of the program at the Festival of Australian Theatre in China.

This last Saturday, October 29th,f was the company’s first performance at the "Beijing Oriental Pioneer Theatre" and, as they expected, it was a great success. Spectators laughed like children and we all ( I was there) enjoyed a little bit more than one hour of the work of three jugglers, puppeteers, magicians, players (whatever you want named them), watching how they played and created with food and kitchen utensils. An absolutely creative performance which recalled our childhood, when we played animating anything with a touch of our hands; it was a play, yes, but also a theatre play, in the strictest meaning of the phrase.

“The Beginning, The Cinema, The Forest” was simplicity at the first glimpse; however, it was also an impressive work of body creativity, pantomime, puppet theatre, object theatre and dramatic structure, and all spectators realized it from "The Beginning" (literally).

After enjoying the play and feeling happy (laughing is a therapy), I had time to meditate about comedy, about laughing and about that difficulty theoreticians have to catalogue and criticize this kind of performing works.

In this production the usual lack of permanency within the theatrical event is total; Men of Steel didn't work with any known language, their words were sounds full of meaning but not at all idea transmitters; their movements were part of one structured unity, even though not transmissible through any codification; all that was left was the 'spectator's memory', yes, once again, all that was left was what the play left in my memory.

I videotaped only a few minutes, but minutes of great fun and great visual beauty (the black foreground created a contrast with the actors' skin and, at the same time, any movement of those kitchen utensils seemed part of a 'surreal aesthetics'). Here you have around 10 minutes of the spectacle and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Was this work a kind of 'dadaist game'? It could be, but I am very careful about calling it that. We were before a production which was working with infantile creative language, and there was for sure a play, but at the end they were trying to narrate three stories, and three very well structured stories: dadaism is dead the moment structure appears.

The Festival of Australian Theatre in China lasts till November the 6th 2007, and we will see more performances with objects, dance and street theatre.

The performance’s brochure reads:

Men of Steel

Hamish Fletcher
Tamara Rewse
Sam Routledge

Operator: Jared lewis

Men of Steel fuses cooking, physical theatre and intricate object puppetry in a humorous examination of the consumptive society in which we live. They had their first adventure with coockie cutters. kitchen objects and a broccoli forest in 2004. Men of Steel has since become one of Australia’s most exciting new puppet theatre companies touring internationally to Scotland, Ireland, the UK and Hong Kong.

Men of Steel in Beijing, China: The Beginning, The Cinema, The Forest. from Gustavo Thomas on Vimeo.

The following text was written after seeing the whole festival :

I would like to say that this, as the other spectacles coming to Beijing these last years, are high quality performances, but that's not true at all. Men of Steel was the most finished work from my point of view, and it is the first work of this company. What should I think about it? This Australian festival could have been named "Young Australian Theatre Festival" or "Funny Performances of Australian Theatre". I am sure that these productions are not really representative of the Australian Performing Arts; they were chosen with a specific ad hoc cultural policy matching the Cultural Policy of the new China: a theatre devoid of deep ideas and devoid of political compromise.

I have seen some great masters of dance (Pina Bausch, White Cloud of Taiwan, Alvin Ailey, etc) or Music (Berliner Philharmonic Orchestra, Lan Lang, etc.) come to Beijing , but absolutely none from the high world of Drama: you never see great companies or playwrights from the second half of the 20th century on stage.

I really miss that theatre which speaks loudly, showing the difficulties and problems we have living together in this chaotic world; I miss laughing because I saw myself or my governors in a ridiculous situation, I miss thinking about how to solve our crises, resolve our differences, our fears while I am watching actions. I miss that theatre my teachers tried to teach me and I which I have tried to do all my life.

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