Hewn into the cultural tapestry of Sydney is performance art, in all its advent wackiness and chutzpah. Its traditions and continuation, however, have been dulled in the recent gouging within government funding of the arts sector. In honour of Performance Space’s 40th year, Nighttime Righttime was a spirited refute brokering our own capacity for comedy and absurdism.
Co-curated by Rosie Dennis and Lara Thoms, the performance took place as a heavily anticipated number in Liveworks Festival’s 2023 line-up. The crowd was an eclectic mash-up of mature audience members, children and arts workers, congregated in the high-ceilinged foyer of Carriageworks for the opening act.
Out sprung The Fondue Set, resplendent in a garish blend of glitter and polyester. To exultant whooping, the three women balled, somersaulted and forward-crunched across the lobby, screwing their faces up as they tested the limits of their heart rates, sometimes offbeat. The presentation bemused, particularly when the trio lined themselves against the south wall and started to gyrate in sync – every inch the gracefully ungraceful frisson. Their set was the energy boost needed to prepare the audience for 90 minutes of comical mystique, but paled in comparison to the roster of acts that followed.
Entering the space of Bay 20, the audience was presented with an older couple stood locked in embrace. As the theatre filled, the pair continued to paw softly at one another while audience members manoeuvred around them to gain access to their seats. Then lights dimmed, and haloed in the back stood another visibly queer couple, kissing feverishly in the pink light. Like clockwork, couples cropped up every few seats to lock lips, the portrait of soft-magenta love. This was ‘The Honeymoon Period’, part soundscape and part installation, helmed by Kaz Therese. Initially shown in 2008 and again when the gay marriage bill passed in New York City, the performance was one that unified all. Therese’s piece was a considerable moment of much-needed intimacy for all who bore witness to it.
A crowd favourite, Madame Lark and her Musical Saw was unfettered joy. With the nifty assistance of a placard-holding stagehand, Madame Lark’s 15-minute routine crested through every bird from the humble magpie to the kookaburra. Her vocal interpretations grew rowdier still as she moved from bird imitation to audience members at random, assigning sound to sight with uncanny wit. Gleefully, she alighted on a man with a particularly rotund head and, without a hitched breath, let the audience know just what she made of it in her onomatopoeic prattle.
Other highlights included Tina Havelock Stevens and Wart, who unloaded a self-effacing mea culpa about previous drug use with little more than a journal, a drum set and a dream, and Teik Kim Pok and Matthew Prest’s stupidly funny ‘Let Me Tell You Something’, which deliberately dragged with its deadpan take on new material for children in the performance art realm.
The last two acts, ‘Romancer’ by Julie-Anne Long and performance group POST’s ‘I Think We’re Alone Now’ rounded out the evening. Long’s presentation of the romantic was wonderfully Lynchian, armed with prop-work that involved an overstuffed teddy bear (later revealed to contain a living person), a gramophone and a stack of gaudy romance novels. ‘Is it romantic?’ she asked aloud, as she plucked petals with a doe-eyed sanguinity. With the audience’s uncertainty around how to respond, the piece could have been trimmed for a little more brevity.
The finale, ‘I Think We’re Alone Now’ was a sonic shock to the system, crowning Performance Space’s 40th anniversary with punk rock tap-dancing and a middle-fingered revolt to the system (and the absentee members of POST), that earned rambunctious cheer.
With effusive daring, Nighttime Righttime was a syncopated medley of the wonderfully odd. Dennis and Thom’s program sought to reinvent, but at heart served as a reminder that the language of performance art is a universalising one.
Performers: The Fondue Set, Kaz Therese, Julie-Anne Long, Tina Havelock Stevens and Wart, Christine Johnston, Teik Kim Pok and Matthew Prest and POST (Zoë Coombs Marr, Mish Grigor and Nat Rose)
Curators: Rosie Dennis and Lara Thoms
Nighttime Righttime was presented as part of Performance Space’s Liveworks Festival of Experimental Art 2023 at Carriageworks on 28-29 October.