Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Physical theatre: WALK

by Bobby Russell

Designed by Opie Robinson

Lighting design by Joe Lui

Sound design by Peter McAvan

Performed by Bobby Russell

Blue Room Theatre

July 14 - 30, 2022

pic: Jed Lyall
 For all its many virtues, the little black box theatre at the Blue Room is not an ideal venue for the spectacular. It’s been achieved before (Humphrey Bower and Tim Green’s Golem in 2020 and Leah Shelton’s Bitch On Heat the year before come to mind) but rarely.

Now along comes Bobby Russell’s WALK, and it absolutely blows conventional wisdom about what can and can’t be done there to smithereens. Russell and their collaborators have created a dark, sumptuous environment of light, sound, vapours and forms that challenge and extend the senses.

While Russell is the only live performer, writhing through a maze of marvelous creations by Opie Robinson, dark fogs and blinding bursts of light, there’s a case that their performance is as much an physical adjunct to a remarkable original composition by Peter McAvan than that McAvan’s music is an accompaniment to Russell’s dance.

Add to that a remarkable lighting design by Joe Lui that, among many striking effects, uses bursts of dazzling light that allow Russell to reset while our pupils recover from the shock.

The cumulative effect of movement, music and light produces a work with a very clear structure within which Russell tells their story.

But what is it, what are these creatures that Russell and Robinson creates, and what narrative purpose do they serve?

A confession: dance is a foreign language to me. I appreciate its skill and beauty in the same way I admire French, or Noongar, or Hindi, but find interpreting what is being said to me as difficult as understanding what I’m being told in those languages.

Having said that, I’m sure Russell is telling their own story, and their metaphor is the process of metamorphosis. Their inner being, their soul, is represented by their unadorned form, close-shaven, non-binary, monochromatic, anonymous – the egg from which they will grow.

The egg’s metamorphosis, to larvae, pupa and adult is represented by its interaction with Opie’s creatures – a gigantic, billowing form, like a mutant caterpillar, and a disintegrating suit of armour, glowing like some burning conquistador – until, finally, the egg becomes adult and finds its personality in drag in shimmering gold lamé and electric wig, beaming as they lip-sync to Kylie and take their bow.

Russell’s story is about the struggle for identity and for freedom in the face of a society that would contain them or swallow them whole. Shot through the spectacle is powerful emotion and an authentic humanity.

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