Fertile Ground

Fertile Ground
West Village, Metro Arts, Brisbane. 25 to 29 May, 2021

A super moon was shining over Brisbane's Metro Arts last night – a beacon to the hub that is surely one of the most creative places to be in Brisbane. Downstairs in the New Benner Theatre, it is Queer Community Night with guest appearances by Brisbane author Krissy Kneen, DJ Sweatybaby and Boy Renaissance, while a packed house queue to see Anatomy of a Suicide. Up the stairs at the back of the complex, a group of 30 people wait to walk to a nearby mystery location for a performance of Fertile Ground by choreographers and performers Ashleigh Musk and Michael Smith, who describe their role, brilliantly, as 'mover-maker'. The site is in the adjacent Peter's Ice Cream Factory – a concrete room adorned with Besser blocks. We walk in to take our 'seats' on concrete blocks, or to stand around the sparse floor. In a corner sits an extensive sound desk with composer/sound designer Anna Whitaker at the helm, waiting to dial in a live-pumped synthesised soundtrack. Auslan interpreter, Adele Greedy-Vogel stands by ready to describe the action. As Anna's evocative electro score begins to slowly pulsate, Adele's hands do the same – scraping together for the sharp, metallic elements, with floating fingers for the delicate tripping chimes.

The performers slowly enter the Factory space, crawling on hands and knees, burdened down with industrially produced, concrete blocks. In fab futuristic fawn plastic and velour costumes designed by Jessica Palfrey, they work their way down the length of the space, finally releasing the blocks. They move and twist together, collaborating in a silent project to build a space. They enlist help from the audience to work, putting blocks in place, positioning microphones to capture the sound of the effort involved, the rhythm of their co-production. The dance and movement is influenced by where the audience position the blocks in time to a soundtrack of screechy metallic and industrial beats. Led by Michael, it doesn't take long for our collective instinct to kick in and people are keen to chip in and help him surround Ashleigh with a brick shelter. He installs a fan and a fluorescent light. Anna's music takes a twee turn to creepy suburban melody. Have the participants created their own burden yet again?

This is a gritty, dusty piece that is strangely eloquent and emotional. It is kind: it doesn't criticise human nature, merely puts it on show and makes us question our instincts to build, to accumulate, to tear down. The performers move lovingly together – their intertwined ambition to be together, support one another, fade and eventually exit the space behind a plastic divider lit by Chloe Ogilvie's industrial lighting design.

These interesting performers have worked extensively in movement and dance across regional Australia and overseas, often in community settings where their work evokes active participation and reaction. As a piece that can be performed in a small construction site, this work could pop up anywhere! Metro Arts' Factory setting is wonderful and the work is full of warmth and humanity, also reflected in the evocative soundtrack. This combination of creative mover-makers are well worth seeing in this intimate space and, if you want to experience the added layer of Auslan description, the next performance with Auslan is on 29 May.

Beth Keehn

Photographer: Jade Ellis

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