By Laura Hartnell
It starts with a constellation. Hanging from some rigging in the cavernous main space of Melbourne Town Hall. It’s strange and thrilling to see the space activated like this: no seats, no lectern on a well-lit stage, no ‘proper event’. You can barely even make out the usually imposing organ. Just a woman, taking down a black curtain lit up with stars, and dragging it across the floor. It feels a bit naughty, bearing witness to feminist performance art in this colonial, patriarchal space. But then again, you did sign up for a feminist intergalactic deconstruction of ‘The Wizard of Oz.’
‘WORKING ON MY NIGHT MOVES’ playing as part of Rising, Melbourne’s inimitable new arts festival, is a strange beast. Co-created by Aotearoa/New Zealand-based artists Nisha Madhan and Julia Croft, it is a largely one-woman show in which Croft arranges and rearranges everyday objects — ladders, chairs, tin foil, balloons — with an air of determined strength, taking the audience on a journey into deep space. The show notes tell us that this is a story about “an unhinged Dorothy—and the celestial bodies she meets along the way—racing around rich universes and distant worlds,” but the overall effect is a rather disjointed, hard-to-parse experience where story gets replaced with abstract images that don’t quite seem to fit together.
Audience members stand for the performance, allowing them to move around and follow Croft as she builds this world. It is a show of blurred boundaries and blended hierarchies, with the audience and performer shifting and reorganising themselves constantly. We are all shifting and moving through an obstacle-strewn face, looking into a strange and uncertain future; audience members have to negotiate each others’ bodies; our attention is not controlled by conventional seating; there is no easily-recognisable narrative arc or predictable character development. Dorothy costumes hang from the rigging, their hyper-feminine girlishness adrift in their industrial surrounds. At times Croft will put these dresses on, complete with light-up flashing sneakers. A moment of a grown woman writhing on the ground and another moment of her inside a heaving mass of balloons are both striking, if confounding, images.
Sound design from Te Aihe Butler (with original compositions by Jason Wright) is evocative, atmospheric and physical. The use of deep bass makes it a very embodied soundscape that both underscores the show’s physicality and unsettles our bodies at the same time. Lighting design from Calvin Hudson is also stunning, with projection, traditional theatre lights, and lights worn on Croft’s body all used to beautiful effect. It’s worth the price of admission just to watch the Town Hall roof lit up with projected galaxies.
The feminist future that ‘WORKING ON MY NIGHT MOVES’ depicts is one where we have to become comfortable with uncertainty and exploration. We have to look at each other—towards community—for context and solidarity, instead of upholding the traditions and power structures of our damaging institutions. It’s a bewitching, meditative, strange future, if only you can stop trying to over-analyse and find ‘meaning’ and instead feel into the embodied, artistic experience of light, sound, and bodies in space.