Tucked away down a laneway off Murray Street is the rear entry to a decommissioned cinema formerly known as the Liberty Theatre, which STRUT Dance and Tura took over to present this year’s SITU-8 program. Co-curators Timothy Green and STRUT co-director Sofie Burgoyne selected composers and body-based makers from 46 applications, pairing some together if they applied separately. The eight dance theatre works created in response to the idea of cinema were presented throughout the building, with video, lighting, and the dilapidated surrounds of the theatre itself helping to create a haunting exploration of image and meaning.
We began the evening in the main hall with Demake/demaster by Sarah Aiken with composition by Alice Humphries. Aiken stitched together clips from throughout film history with video of her moving which was played on two large tv screens set on the stage. She moved around these two screens, matching her body with the bodies on the screen, thereby making new bodies that were part digital, part real. In a sense, she was perhaps placing herself inside the films, inhabiting the characters. Or perhaps in a way, she was able to collaborate with the filmmakers, build on their works, and continue the ‘conversation’, much in the way that TikTokers do when stitching together videos.
The next performance began from behind us, requiring us to shift our own bodies to allow the progression of performers Aisha Samat, Luci Young, Randa Chamis and Talitha Maslin through the hall for La Dolente. The crowd of us parted, broke apart, and reformed in smaller clumps, as the performers, dressed in black lingerie-style garments, used movement and spoken word (written by Helah Milroy) to evoke ideas about the femme fatale, body autonomy, desire, and the male gaze.
Following on from this was The Melody Haunts My Reverie by Antonio Rinaldi and Celina Hage. The performance took place on two levels at the rear of the hall, with Hage on the floor using mannequin arms as props to create surreal figures as she moved, with Rinaldi directly above in the projection area. Rinaldi performed spoken word lip sync to various film clips with the assistance of an audience member who had been surreptitiously taken upstairs to become part of the performance. Rinaldi made great use of old rotary/push-button phones, creating a slightly deranged but humorous personage. The lighting by Lucy Birkenshaw and composition by Eduardo Cossio came together to make this Lynchian, surrealist short piece an absolute highlight of the evening.
After the interval, we were given the instruction that we could either follow the schedule provided for the next half of the program, or, because of the durational nature of the works, we could choose our own adventure. Being someone who dislikes a crowd, I was inclined to make my own way through the presentations, a couple of which were tucked away in some really tight spaces with awkward sight lines. Daisy Sanders‘s Womb for World Weeping (with composition by Felicity Groom), for instance, was performed in a room that was about the size of a New York studio apartment, which meant that she really only had a small corner as a performance space. Presumably, the notion of ‘womb’ informed the location choice, as we were indeed held very close together within it. The walls and door were filled with text relating to the piece, along with projections by Mitchell Aldridge.
For a bit more breathing room and comic relief, just down the stairs from Sanders was the candy bar, which became the setting for Pretty Purgatory by Tom Mullane, performed by himself along with Estelle Brown and Izzy Leclezio, with retro-electro-synth composition by Em Burrows. This bright, cartoony, candy-coloured room sets the tone for this piece about ‘queer reverie’ and sees the performers really lean into the comedy and make a mess with freshly popped popcorn for a delicious snack of a performance.
Further down the side of the cinema hall were two more pop-up performance spaces, the ground floor housing Public Solitude by Bobby Russell, which was performed by Shuling Wong, Meg Scheffers, and Peter McAvan (composer) playing live. Wong and Scheffers move in isolation – Wong begins in an adjacent corridor, and it took me a few minutes to realise she was part of the piece and not a lost audience member. As she moves into the space, she never really ‘joins’ Scheffers, who shifts around the room, up the stairs, and under chairs, but presumably we are meant to reflect on the idea that we often inhabit spaces with others without connecting in any significant way.
At the top of the aforementioned stairs is another odd-shaped room where SS Bodach by Sam Coren, featuring Georgia Van Gils and Zendra Giraudo, with composition by Louis Frere-Harvey, is docked and stationed. This sci-fi adventure sees two alien creatures (or perhaps space explorers?) mirroring each other and moving in and out of synch. The costumes here (by Nicole Marrington) are exceptionally rendered, with black and metallic armour, sinews and spines that allude to Alien and Predator creature design. I hope they get used again in an expanded work, or that they re-emerge at an underground dance party somewhere in another decommissioned Perth venue (and that they let me in to see it).
Back in the main hall, performers from the various shows were scattered about the room as audience members strolled through on their way to other locales. One of the TVs from Demake/demaster played a second installation of Daisy Sanders’s work (Womb for World Weeping), which was a video by Mitchell Aldridge of Sanders moving in what appeared to be an outdoor reserve; headphones were available so we could to listen to the music by Felicity Groom as well.
Finally, the audience re-convened for a final performance in the main cinema space called Mercury Bones by Olivia Hendry and Kimberley Parkin. Parkin was clothed head to toe in dusty blue, with her head covered in blue stocking material, and a pair of matching kitten heels that clacked across the concrete floor as she moved. Behind and above her was projected a film featuring Crystal Nguyen, Sze Tseng, Declan MacPhail, Milky Geda, Matthew Hobley and Olivia Hendry. These folks were filmed engaging in various activities inside a what might be a share house. The filmed moments convey a feeling of joy in physical (but not necessarily sexual) intimacy between people of differing races, genders, and abilities in a way that signals openness and harmony. Performing live are composers David Stewart and Nonie Trainor, whose vocals soar and lift us up.
The SITU-8 program was densely packed with intriguing mysteries to solve using our treasure maps, where we encountered unique points of view expressed through movement, image, and sound. The design team of Lucy Birkenshaw (lighting) and Nicole Marrington (costume) transformed the space and transported us to different microcosms within the cinema’s antechambers. I left the Liberty Theatre with a sense of having experienced an extremely satisfying array of well-presented and lovingly-curated ideas that truly felt like they grew right out of the crumbling paint of the cinema walls. And as a final conclusion statement piece for the evening, Mercury Bones left me with the gratifying and hopeful sense that indeed, the kids are alright.
Although the SITU-8: City season has ended, you can still catch some of the venue’s mystique by visiting Liberty Alive, a laneway festival of music, food, booze, and street art, throughout the end of November until 10 December.