Wednesday 4 October 2017

The Goblin Market : NZ cirque enthrals & teases
All the basic condition theatre requires is that fire last night & those costumes 
& the human voice & people gathered together.  
Sir Trevor Nunn, Director (Cats, 1981 \ Les Miserables, 1985)

From the footlights :  To fully appreciate the circus feat called The Goblin Market presented at Cultch's York Theatre by New Zealand's The Dust Palace troupe, one need do two things : (1) first download & read the 1862 Christina Rossetti narrative poem for which the performance is, literally, a jumping-off point, and (2) absorb the intent of The Dust Palace squib describing their show : "The production celebrates the female gaze in its exploration of sexuality and sisterhood, through double trapeze, mask, projection, acrobatics, spoken word and music -- this is circus with a Southern hemisphere flair...".

How the show is put together :  The Rossetti poem's central conceit is of two "sisters" who face daunting temptation by goblins bearing Eden-esque fruits of every variety but apple. The women each must sacrifice their innocence before achieving redemption together. In 2017 the poem, I submit, cannot possibly be read as anything but a bacchanalian celebration of a gutsy, lusty lesbian love affair. This despite Rossetti's Notes published in 1904 that insist she "did not mean anything profound by this fairytale." I say Pshaw! to such sleight wordplay. The proof is her own full-blooded and husky descriptors of sexual delights and the women's robust recoupling.

But. But. All largely irrelevant, this, in The Dust Palace cirque performance piece. Rossetti's poem figures in only peripherally, though its riffs of XY trickery, lechery, faux-rape, lust (hetero & homo both), all are there for the gawking and the thrill.

Adding a new spin to the 150 year old Christina Rossetti poem are NZ cirque mavens Rochelle Mangan and Eve Gordon who are a sisterhood of traveling acrobats.
Photo by 
Production values that shine through : Rossetti's words, for their part, are mostly substituted except for some minor excerpts scrolled herky-jerky in black-&-white as if from a clunky old Bell-&-Howell 16 mm. projector onto the upstage scrim. But primarily -- instead of the luscious, lascivious lyrics of Rossetti's poem -- we get hip-hop from the likes of Tito and Tarantula, Archive's "Chaos", Fierce Mild (or a surrogate) doing a lengthy cover of the Lesley Gore classic "You Don't Own Me", Smoke and Mirror's "Ivy and Gold", &c. &c. All of this aided and abetted by Eminem-style rap monologues to punctuate the music. 

If you've seen a Cirque du Soleil performance (in Vancouver? Duhhh!) you'll see much here that resembles it (e.g. oh-so-cautious & painstaking hand-stands atop a dozen stacked square wooden office chairs). But TDP advances the often Andrew Lloyd Webber-ish Cirque music and storyline that accompany their trademark kinetic stylistics.

Fact is there is no sense trying to review this performance art piece as typical "drama". It is artistic acrobatics on a 2 X 12 movable balance beam; on curtain streamers; rope; body-size rings; trapeze; floor routines; extreme yoga contortions. It is, in a word, a visual avant garde ballet of gymnastics movement singly and doubly by the three cast that is, lit.-&-fig., altogether breathtaking.

The fruits of Eden are front-&-centre in Christina Rossetti's poem but are downplayed here in all the acrobatic imagination brought into play by New Zealand's The Dust Palace troupe.Photo by Loork.
Acting pin-spots : Other dramatic renditions have made the poem into a musical, a one-woman show or a two-hander that just implies the presence of the malicious, malign male goblins. Not here. Edward Clendon as the "collective goblins" is an astonishing accomplished gymnast whose solo routines at times threaten to steal the show.

But only for a second or two. Co-performers Eve Gordon and Rochelle Mangan rock the house with their delicious inventiveness in all the acrobatic arabesque options and variations noted above. Their final big-ring pas de deux as the reconciled and redeemed sisters -- whether siblings or lovers, hardly matters -- was to bring on tears.

Who gonna like : As noted, drama-based circus is with us to stay. Thirty years-plus have passed since Guy Laliberte and Gilles Ste-Croix launched Cirque du Soleil in Quebec City. But TDP advances the somewhat formulaic & familiar CdS schtick that we're all used to regardless of whatever new title is put to any given annual outing they trot out across the land.

More character intimacy, more individual showcasing, more of a plot thread that one feels like diving into and being immersed in, these are the strengths The Dust Palace brings to this emerging dramatic art form. The standing-o the troupe got on opening night was neither fluke nor knee-jerk nor a rote-&-ritual welcome for foreign talent that Vancouver crowds are so often guilty of. Your kind of divertissement from the usual fare on local boards? You'll get a buzz no question.

Particulars : Created & performed by The Dust Palace troupe of New Zealand. At the Cultch York Theatre on Commercial in EastVan, through October 14th.  Run-time 85 minutes, no intermission. Tickets & schedules : Box office phone 604.251.1363 or via The Cultch website.

Production crew : Director Mike Edward.  Technical Director Michael Craven.  Rigger Bianca Beebe.

Performers :  Edward Clendon.  Eve Gordon.  Rochelle Mangan.

Addendum #1 :  Company Info (from the program) : Our mission is to present fun, exhilarating circus theatre that is intimate, visually stunning, and brave in its frankness about human nature.

Established by Eve Gordon and Mike Edward in 2009, The Dust Palace is New Zealand's pre-eminent circus theatre company. Our aim is to create international-standard circus theatre, taking our stories around the world; and to foster circus and physical performance and practitioners in Auckland and New Zealand. No other professional company in NZ operates in this innovative, form forward space. We value quality, audacity, and humanity. We create work which connects communities, sharing skills, and spreading delight.

The Dust Palace has progressed toward creating more integrated narrative based works as our company and audience profile has grown, which is at the core of what we do. From our early cabaret-style works we have been introducing our audiences to a more sophisticated, genre-bending blend of circus and physical theatre; challenging and engaging diverse audiences as well as providing mind-blowing entertainment.

Addendum #2 :  Show notes (from the program) :  Eve's mother had a particular liking to the Christina Rossetti poem Goblin Market for its luxurious language and vivid descriptions. In 2011 when researching historic erotic literature for their show Venus is..., Eve re-discovered the poem and introduced Mike to it. Its strong imagery and universal themes struck them as a piece that could be a really strong seed for circus theatre show.

We wanted to explore the depth of each of the character's states through the poem; Laura's addiction and despair; Lizzie's fear, courage and determination, and the Goblins; who they are, not only representationally but 'humanly', what they are within each and every one of us.

The strong discourse on the punishment of young sexualized women inherent in the work struck us as such a relevant concept to modern young people that we couldn't help but place the work in the present day, clearly connecting the girls to us and the temptations to those we all face in our lives. We began developing the show in 2016 at the request of the Nelson Festival. After a series of workshops and showings we had developed a distinct language of storytelling which drove the narrative out of the various skills we had utilized among the cast.

The film component was developed from Eve's past in experimental, direct and non-narrative film world. Direct film making techniques such as bleach, scratch, collage, among a multitude of others, were employed to help bring to life the anarchic danger of a city scape. Many hours were spent in front of celluloid strips in the making of this show!

Addendum # 3 : Director's notes (from the program):  We've explored various ways of incorporating narrative with circus, but time and time again we keep being drawn back to poetry.  Its rhythms, the heightened nature of the language, and its often surreal nature lends itself to circus. The Goblin Market message of women's empowerment is timeless. It was one of the very first literary pieces to challenge the "fallen women" narrative : the happy ending offers the possibility of redemption, while typical Victorian portrayals ended in the fallen woman's death.

In circus I operate daily with women who are super human : they are braver, stronger, and have more heart than most men I know. (I still am shocked when I'm out in the world and I hear someone say 'Don't be a girl'?!)  Therefore a story of two sisters who love hard, fight hard, and stand together (in spite of their actions) seemed a wonderful fit for my wonderful, Amazonian performers.  

I hope you enjoy the show.
Mike Edward.

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