Wednesday, February 28, 2024
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ARTSLAB: Drifters

ARTSLAB: Drifters
Shopfront Arts Co-op
107 Redfern
October 18-22, 2023

Drifters presents the second of its twice-yearly festival of new work from Shopfront Arts Residency program which partners emerging artists with industry mentors and provides a performance opportunity. The fresh, lively and thoughtful program offers an exciting glimpse into the creative minds of the young and vibrant.

The chosen title, Drifters, uniting the pieces, not only evokes the notion of aimlessness, like a leaf carried wherever a current is flowing but also has the connotation of hoping, perhaps futilely, for anchorage. The three short plays – Red Soup, Curbsquatters and Sensations of Maintenance – and an installation, One Self Over the Crimson Nest, each in their different ways, show characters looking to moor themselves in place or in time.

Red Soup (writer Anna Kyrwyj Moore, mentor Jess Arthur) explores the meaning of identity and home through the characters of Oma (Gabrielle Bowen), a Ukrainian refugee from the Nazi regime, and contemporary Jade (Emily Smith), maybe her granddaughter, for whom anchorage is found through a recipe and its story-like recitation. Bowen brings both strength and pathos to her portrayal of Oma, who we see as an old woman with advanced dementia, living out memories of horrendous past experiences, her vulnerability enhanced by floral nightgown and socks contrasted with Jade (Emily Smith) adrift in her intense involvement in ceaseless home renovation. The performances were very commanding but the script was unclear at times particularly in the introduction where it should have most clarity.

The funny, sad and insightful content of Curbsquatters (Irelish Barker, Emma Saunders) was totally absorbing. Admittedly, situating it on a curb outside a nightclub enabled a smooth exchange of characters but maintaining the nightclub scene as background, at least in its present form, was a little distracting as well as difficult for the actors. Each vignette reveals a little drama of its own, the highlight perhaps being Natasha Pontoh-Supit’s monologue on the existence of a double living the good life she was meant to have. The actors brought conviction to their moment, and Breanna Boyd was notable for conveying throughout the whole the exact character who would find it hard to leave the party.

The more philosophical Sensations of Maintenance (Adam Yoon, Martin del Amo), blending dance with the spoken word, visualised letting go, or consciously choosing to drift. Yoon describes his work as taking apart and playing with “the frames we set up for ourselves and those set up for us by others” through “the use of fragments and threads of sounds, memory and movement”. As we watch the intent, reverential movement of Millie Hing gracefully manipulating an umbrella, stools, a blank model head, a wooden hand, statuettes, or as she breaks into a frenzied syncopated movement to a soundscape engineered by Daniel Ballien, we can take the meaning. But most intriguing of all was the shadow-play Hing’s every well-judged movement made against the white back-sheet of the stage.

In a living installation, Divya Lotliker (mentor, Valerie Berry) creates a space that represents her childhood bedroom, where she found refuge from the world by making a world of her own. Walk through a diaphanous scarlet curtain, take a seat and sink into the comfort of watching someone at home in their deliciously cluttered bedroom. Every inch of floor space and wall space is home to something and all is enveloped in the soft, magical glow of Edenic childhood. There are hints of teenage angst and the flickering notion that a childhood self is but one self of the many we will choose to hold onto or let go.

The opportunity to see Arts Lab: Drifters is still available as the program will be repeated at The Joan in Penrith next month.

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