Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Strange Fruit in Beijing: SynchroSwing

The Festival of Australian Theatre in China finished with SynchroSwing, a performance by Strange Fruit. (1)

Strange Fruit produces acrobatic spectacles based on one original mechanical tool:

a 4 metre high flexible poles of original design, the troupe delivers a sublime performance, bending and swaying in the air, captivating and engaging the audience in absolute fascination. (sic)

Originally based on the image of a field of wheat swaying in the breeze, the poles' extreme strength and flexibility allow the performer to bow to impossible angles, swaying back and forth in a hypnotising dance as the audience looks up in wonder. (sic)

With a world-renowned repertoire that celebrates a wide variety of themes and stories, the company has achieved near-cult status in almost every continent across the globe (sic). Performing regularly at festivals, special events and private functions, their sublime, hypnotic beauty is truly remarkable and must be experienced to appreciate its full effect. (sic)” (2)

It seems the company (according to their own words of course) has had a big success wherever it has passed by. Well, not in Beijing.

They have a repertoire of 7 spectacles, all of them based on the same structure described above, and I want to say it’s “a very practical formula”: these flexible poles, special music (as anyone would expect), spectacular costumes, and the number of people playing the same choreography in a big square or any special public space. Their theatricality approaches Circus far more than Drama, so their stories are very simple, they’re only concept-action. There’s not much to say, Strange Fruit’s spectacles are “consumer products”, once you know the successful formula you only need change the other ingredients.

SynchroSwing, the production they brought to Beijing, was originally created for an opening ceremony of the FINA swimming competition some years ago. On that occasion the group on stage were between 6 to 10 acrobats on the poles, but in Beijing they decided to play with... three.

I have no idea which were the contract conditions for coming to China, but what I saw, the performance resulting from it, was graceless and esthetically poor: three people (one man and two women), ridiculously dressed like synchronised swimming competitors, also acting ridiculously like them, and “dancing” on the poles for 15 or 20 minutes to a Waltz. A spectacle without reason at a Chinese amusement park (remember it was specially created for another event, an international swimming competition) and part of a Theatre Festival which was supposed to offer a panoramic view of the Australian Stage.

They played like children, jeeringly, looking like fools and stupid. The “formula” worked, yes; people smiled, applauded, even laughed; those 3 poles, acrobatics and music saved everything.

I was shocked thinking how this could be the closing spectacle for the Festival of Australian Theatre in China, so shameful and disrespectful to Chinese spectators and the Australian theatre itself. They brought to Beijing their own rubbish.

I must insist, this is my point of view of one performance I saw and not about the whole production of Strange Fruit that I’d never seen before (3). The video I recorded is simple but concrete.

Strange Fruit and Australian theatre should be a lot more than that and Chinese spectators deserved a real understanding of the high level Australian performing arts have reached.

Who organized this? Nobody who loves Australian theatre, and nobody who loves Chinese.

I recalled some “international” events in Mexico, how Mexicans received rubbish from famous companies of the world and I thought how similar Chinese spectators are; both nations are isolated form the high western art and culture, they lack critic sense, then both smile and applaud with an idea of naiveté, lightness and surprise.

About the Festival of Australian Theatre in China: http://www.festivalatc.com

About Strange Fruit: http://www.strangefruit.net.au

The same videos in Vimeo:


(1) November 3rd, 2007. Chaoyang Gongyuan (Chaoyang Amusement Park). Beijing, China.
(2) The quotation comes from Strange Fruit’s site. http://www.strangefruit.net.au
(3)You can see videos of the other spectacles at Strange Fruit’s site: http://www.strangefruit.net.au

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