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The Bland Project


To go to the theatre on a Friday night after a week of mentally and emotionally charged work can be a very testing choice. I arrived at Carriageworks a little tired and more than jaded. When I left the Carriageworks after the performance I had been stimulated back to a very alert and maybe even rapturous state of being. Such can be the power of art.

The Bland Project was initially developed in 2006 through a Critical Path residency at the Drill hall. Now after a two year further development it is been performed at Performance Space. “Performance Space animates Australia’s cultural life by producing and presenting contemporary arts that explore the intersections between performance, visual cultures, new media and sound.”

This very exciting work (anything but bland) uses all the above in blissful intersection.

Four performers greet us in a straight line, dressed in identical casual slacks and shoes with a white undershirt and long sleeved buttoned blue shirt, ushering us silently into the performance space with a polite arm gesture and non committed face. (Bland!) They exchange places quietly and shift position in the queue: top of it, gradually passing down to the bottom of it, and then recommencing. We enter the room and take our seats to be confronted with the image of the four invitees still repeating the action we encountered at the entrance way. It takes a little while for me to realise that this is not a live broadcast image but an endlessly looped video that is being projected. The lights dim and the screen retracts into its flown case to reveal a moving screen system on four tracks: a screen a track. They quietly move across the space in a horizontal path, back and forth. During the course of the performance pre-filmed images of the dancer/performers as well as other images, sometimes multiplied thirty-fifty fold are projected onto these screens and on to the huge grey concrete wall of the theatre space behind. Sometimes the image of the artists are videoed live and projected onto the screens and walls whilst the artists move and interact with them. The artists use mirrors and ordinary grey blankets as props.

These performers are fascinating merely in their presence. Four relatively short men: one Japanese (Ryuichi Fujimura), one Malaysian (Teik-Kim Pok) (maybe in their late thirties) and two Caucasians (Ari Ehrlich and Philip Mills) (maybe in their late fifties – early sixties). They are quite aesthetically arresting both as individuals and as a group. Their choreography has been developed in the project by Alan Schacher. It is mostly upper torso and arm work, but not exclusively, both individual and choral. There are many spellbinding sequences: a “ballet” with grey blankets; a fascinating semi-naked upper torso self administered massage that begins exquisitely familiarly, moving from gentle touch to what could be very aggressive and painful nipple pulling (Ari Ehrlich); a diagonally moved quartet of semi naked bodies slapping, or better, playing tympani with their hands on each other. All with the blandest of facial response. It was an engrossing intersection of all the ingredients of this team.

The Video Design and Imagery by Sean Bacon; the subtle and beautiful Sound Design, the composer and musician (electric violoncello) Boris Baberkoff; Sydney Bouhaniche’s Lighting Design is marvellous for its complexity and sheer skill in creating Beauty in and around all the Video needs. There is much to be admired here both aesthetically and pragmatically. Film Maker, Michelle Mahrer; Video Artist/Installation, Sean Bacon; Set Design, Alan Schacher and Sean Bacon; Costume Design, Alan Schacher; Moving Screen System, Russell Emerson; Photographer Mayu Kanamori all make very intelligent contributions to a truly satisfying experience. All the artists biographies are staked with very intimidating backgrounds and ambitions that it, at first, was a little intimidating for me to embrace the night. But there is such a feeling of commitment from all the artistic inputs, and such integrity in execution that all reservations are removed. Whatever the Director’s stated objectives were in the very ‘academic’ program notes this was for me (Quote) “a very transformative experience” (Un quote)!!!!

A highly recommended visit. This is the kind of work that the Sydney Theatre Company has been quietly giving opportunity for their audiences to experience (witness my review of Manna or Guilt Framed) at their home at The Wharf. Maybe their curators could check it out. Or the Sydney Festival. It could be enjoyed by many more than us lucky few this week at Performance Space.

2 replies to “The Bland Project”

  1. Hi Kevin, thanks so much for your review! in such a short season we were very lucky to get a Jill Sykes review, plus yours! It is indeed difficult to ensure that work like this one has a future and is seen by a larger public – which in turn is both employment and recognition for the artistic team. Just one typo: the video artist is Sean Bacon, not Bean.
    regards, Alan Schacher

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