Depthless

Depthless
Written by Kate Harman and Ben Ely. Presented by The Farm, supported by the Queensland Government through Arts Queensland. Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts Performance Space, 29 November to 1 December, 2018

Brisbane indie music talent Ben Eli and choreographer Kate Harman have created a work of art with a capital A in Depthless. It seems appropriate on opening night, that we enter the space via IMA (Institute of Modern Art) as this show sits well in a modern art space.

The work feels deeply personal; delving into the dramas of a passionate and volatile relationship through music and contemporary dance. The performers express the thrill of being totally caught up in your new love, juxtaposed against the gaping hole left in your chest when such a love ends. You’re exposed to that extra level of intensity artists share with their muses. The choreography also portrays the ways in which people manipulate and control their partners.

You’d expect with such subject matter, it might be emotionally draining to watch, however the strong Brechtian directorial choices keep the audience’s emotional empathy at arms-length. You do need a certain level of comprehension of the language of theatre and dance to fully appreciate the work. The lack of clearly defined narrative combined with the emotional alienation isn’t the sort of thing that appeals to mainstream audiences that are new to the theatre.

The performers – Guy Webster on guitar, drums and vocals and Kate Harman dancing and guitar – are both very skilled and clearly dedicated. Their focus is unquestionable, while the chemistry between them does fall a little short of realistic. Perhaps this is another deliberate, Brechtian choice.

Guy has one small stumble on guitar in the opening number, but is otherwise musically flawless in his performance. He seems humble and works professionally, with a controlled energy that’s sustained through the show.  

Kate shows excellent passion, but does burn brighter at the start of the show than the end, when you can tell she’s got little left in the tank. That’s understandable given she puts one hundred percent into her work. Kate has brilliant facial expressions in lieu of rafts of dialogue to tell the story. She’s physically impressive, flexible, strong, throwing her entire being into it, including her long auburn hair which she uses like a fifth limb.

The repetition in the choreography does become a little monotonous toward the end of the show. Despite the performers’ skills we start to find ourselves distracted and losing interest during the last ten minutes. It’s unfortunate as the stillness of the finale feels a little like an anti-climax after the excitement and energy of the earlier pieces.

The original music ranges between electric guitar driven cacophony akin to Sonic Youth’s latter works, touching acoustic ballads, and head bopping hooky punk rock toe-tappers. The most challenging aurally are the extended periods of loud feedback. The punk numbers are most enjoyable, while the acoustic ones are probably furthest removed from the style of music people would recall from Ben’s career in Regurgitator.

The lighting is noticeably excellent. The show starts with a lone, bright white bulb shining from upstage, panning around like a lighthouse. Another strikingly beautiful moment of lighting is during one of the dance routines. Kate is lit from the sides, on a black stage with black curtains and she appears to hover in space and time as she dances in a glittery gold gown.

This latest offering from Helpmann Award winning, Gold Coast company The Farm has you thinking about your own relationships; how women are often put on a pedestal and then fall hard when their partner sees they’re actually flawed and human; how a muse can inspire music to spring from the ether, such that a musician feels he’s not even responsible for the chords and melodies he’s creating; how a love that burns so very brightly often fades fastest and hurts deepest when it’s over.

Kiesten McCauley

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