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The River Eats

Presented by Performance Space THE RIVER EATS – Justin Shoulder and Collaborators, at Carriageworks, Redfern.

THE RIVER EATS is a performance art piece created by Justin Shoulder and Collaborators. This work is a further development on a project explored and presented at Melbourne’s 2012 Next Wave Festival. Here, at Carriageworks it is part of their month-long Show Off Season. Mr Shoulder according to the program notes is:

a multi-disciplinary artist. His interest lies in the creation and dissemination of urban mythologies. These stories are realized physically in the construction of full-body highly sculptural ‘Fantastic Creature’ avatars he inhabits in live performance. Shoulder also makes video and photographic works that extend on the universe of these creatures.

Certainly, the extraordinary costumes are the creations that I have appreciated and become excited about in past work that I have seen from Mr Shoulder, and in THE RIVER EATS, these magnificent manifestations are the primary “wow” factor of the 70 minute performance, they are outstanding in imagination and craftsmanship. THE RIVER EATS supposedly “charts the journey of Pinky – an over caffeinated, attention-deficient demon whose identity is undergoing a fantastic metamorphosis.” From the eccentric and ‘beautiful’ Pinky persona to the black and white camouflage of a huge butterfly/moth, one is left in a state of wonder at the visual impact of this work.

The Collaborators to this non-stop work include Nick Wales whose wall of sound power-electronics sound design, and incidental electronic “plink, plonks”, drove the work spectacularly, leaving one with a sense experience, of not just hearing, but responding with body vibrations caused by the sound waves/patterns that one can only express, as it diminishes, as “INTENSE”! The effect was of an envelopment in a deeply dense and ‘piercing’ surround sound. Add the Lighting and Video Design by Toby K and Video and VFX by Rebecca Segh on a beautiful and simple set design that permits a kind of seamless journey – swivel centre wall and floor decoration – and the sensual immersion in the experience, could be, for some, overwhelming. It was for me, if, some of my fellow audience had reservations.

The gently implied environmental politics of the work (Dramaturgy by Jeff Stein) is a little too light on, and/or obfuscated in the dazzling visual and aural offers, to take seriously or clearly, and the actual performance work of Mr Shoulder needs much more physical skill/discipline for it not to distract us: for instance, the long opening sequence of Pinky chasing the light and “applause” does not have the accuracy of body that it calls for and so prevents us from being subjectively seduced into the work of the persona; the later long sequence in the extraordinary costume creation of the final mutant-metamorphosis, again, suffers from lack of physical ‘accuracy and ‘tightness’ – it seemed to lack stamina – the performer tiring and the physical repetition of expressions sagging, as it went on and on.

THE RIVER EATS is a work of great imaginative conception with a team of collaborators of outstanding potential, and it is, undoubtedly, a work that is an important commitment to a wider ranging approach (different) to the theatre usually seen in Sydney, as a contemporary expression of the world we live in. One looks forward to see the next work with more honed performance skill from Justin Shoulder and Collaborators.

Exciting to see.