Performance review: ANITO, RISING Festival, Arts House

Costume, puppetry, drag, dance and experimental electronic music combine to interrogate colonial wrongs.
RISING. Against a burning sun going down two figures that look like prehistoric monsters or dinosaurs face off. But are they just performers in flowing costumes?

Performed by Justin Talplacido Shoulder and Eugene Choi, ANITO is an awe-inspiring work, a tight 60-minute piece that is not easy to review. The show melds new stories taken from colonial destruction and is inspired by tales of Spanish colonists melting ancient Filipino ritual funerary gold objects to mould crucifixes.

ANITO is an exemplar of the power of dance and art to deconstruct outdated and dangerous colonial and binary frameworks. Yet calling the performance simply a dance piece would be reductive. This is so much more.

It’s a work that is as liberating as it is dark and menacing. The creative team have presented some delicate, radical fever dream, whereby the audience is continually tricked by what’s on stage: is it projection, or a cloaked body slithering across the space, or could it be both? This reviewer can only liken the experience to that of taking psychedelics; it’s stagecraft at its purest and best. 

The piece is broken down into three sections, each with their own ecology. The first, shrouded in dim light, is akin to a forest floor. In the second, golden light bathes a rocky outcrop. The third plunges the work into a watery underworld where corals bloom and grow large. In each of the three sections, objects continue to morph into new forms, be it by choreography, puppetry or projection mapping.

ANITO is a slow burn that revels in its darkness, one that is both metamorphic and stylistically beautiful. Technically, the work here is a solid 10 out of 10 as it utilises the whole space, with lighting that traverses the fourth wall. Corin Ileto, responsible for sound design and live score, has created a truly magical thing in her blending of sounds of the natural with piercing electronic notes.

It’s led by Shoulder, the creative team hailing from Sydney, who have dug deeply into their roots within the underground queer and diasporic club scenes to exploit the resurgence and new-found popularity of voguing. But ANITO moves past this; these roots are present, yes, but this a vision of the future – of “post queer culture” – as much as it is about the post colonial.

On a packed opening night, this reviewer found their seat in the back row. But because of the way this work is staged, the audience would do well to sit in the last rows, which give the best view and perspective of the performance as a whole. Indeed, during the night attended, a number of people moved to the back row during the performance.

Read: Book review: Depth of Field, Kirsty Iltners

This is the power of RISING and sister festivals of the same calibre – they grant the opportunity to engage with work outside of the local canon, bringing new perspectives to performance.

Arts House, North Melbourne
Directed, performed and co-conceived: Justin Talplacido Shoulder
Production design: Matthew Stegh and Justin Talplacido Shoulder
Sound design and live score: Corin Ileto
Performer and co-generator: Eugene Choi
Mentor and collaborator: Victoria Hunt
Lighting/vision design: Fausto Brusamolino

Costume design technicians: Brenda Lam, Anthony Aitch, Luna Aquatica
Produced by: Insite Arts

Tickets: $44-$49

ANITO will be performed until 9 June as part of RISING Festival.

Jessi Ryan (they/them) has been creating performance and exhibitions for the past 20 years, both locally, nationally and abroad- in this time collaborating with a huge number of artists from a broad cross section of cultural backgrounds. As a journalist they have written for and been published by some of Australia’s leading arts and news editorial across the last 10 years-and was recognised as a finalist for Globe Community Media Award in 2021. Ryan has also taken photos for a number of print and online publications.