New Performance, New Dimensions [by James Wenley]
Well the New Performance Festival has sprung up within the little-seen bowels of the Aotea Centre. A pop-up (and very cool) festival club is the gateway to a host of shows that, at the very least, will leave you plenty to talk about after.
And it was 2 Dimensional Life of Her that was chosen to open and set the tone of the Festival on Friday. Originating from Australia, the work has been travelling for the last three years. But what this work is, I’m not quite sure. The creator herself, Fleur Elise Noble, says of the show “I still find it almost impossible to describe”. So I’ll do my very best…
Visually, it’s a beautiful amalgam of simple retro technology – pen on paper, and clever use of newer film, animation, and projection technologies. Narratively, you can make of it what you will, but the premise is of an artist losing control of her creations. It reminded me of the type of creatively ‘out-there’ works that you might encounter as an installation in a funky contemporary art gallery space, but in a theatre context it makes more demands.
The playing space is littered with paper. An image of a cleaning lady watches us, projected onto a cut-out of a human shape. Along the back and on one side are large feature ‘2D’ flats where much of the ‘action’ take places. The ‘action’ are clever and intricate films projected onto the flats, and the characters within them travel along the flats and interact with each other – the cleaning lady can move out of her frame, travel along the back flat, and then into the house in the side flat, the sound of her footsteps moving along with her.
Strange images play out in front of us. Figures are drawn, crossed out, scrunched up, and thrown away. The flats show layers upon layers of scenes, peeling away or bursting through. As we are drawn into the show, mind is tricked, and without any use of ridiculous glasses, this world begins to take a 3D form.
Seemingly formed from the original sketches, an ensemble of bald men emerge into the world. Moving by way of puppetry and stop motion, they are a softly disturbing presence. A chase breaks out between them and the cleaning lady – she runs away, but they always find her. The scenes make dream, rather than logical sense. A thought bubble that randomly appears over one man – “What happened” – mirrors by own thoughts. Later, the bald-men all sit down to watch a short film about the cleaning lady’s cut-out.
There is an underlying violence in the work, particularly interesting if one thinks in terms of the show being about the creative process, birthing and then destroying ideas. One figure slams his face into paper repeatedly, creating images of himself. A fire starts slowly and then roars into flame, laying waste to everything. It’s a strangely satisfying moment, the sound of the flames crackling in our ears, and I realise, the first time we’ve seen any colour in a black and white world.
All this has been played out with few hints of an actual human ‘in the flesh’. At times paper on the floor is flung up to have special moments projected on them, and we know someone is behind them. Noble does eventually emerge, to try to get back some control of her creations. But it left me unsatisfied; I wanted to believe the illusion, her presence undercutting them. This probably says quite a lot. She says the audience wants a happy ending, and the characters comply.
Technically, I’m nothing but in awe of this show. It blows my mind how long it must have taken to film, animate, and get all the elements together. Emotionally, I’m left feeling frustrated – the provided ‘happy ending’ a cop-out, pulling back from the darkness of creation.
2 Dimensional Life of Her plays at the New Performance Festival until 21 February. More information at The Edge.
SEE ALSO: Theatreview review by Stephen Austin