Refuse the Hour

A chaotic piece of operatic performance art; frazzling and exhilarating in equal measure.
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Photo by John Hodgkiss.

Take the complex philosophies and sciences surrounding the concept of time, several stunningly skilled operatic, dance and musical performers, a series of strange mechanical creatures and music machines, and the writing and projected animations of William Kentridge. Place all ingredients in a blender. Pulse three or four times and spill the contents onto the stage of the Perth Concert Hall and you have Refuse the Hour, the chamber orchestra spectacular presented by the Perth International Arts Festival.

The performance follows on from Kentridge’s video installation from two PIAFs ago, The Refusal of Time, a similarly chaotic piece that occupied a room in the Art Gallery of WA, and which also incorporated a mess of theatre, dance, music, sculpture (of sorts) and animation. Refuse the Hour is specifically an evolution of the installation, using many of the same elements, materials and visual concepts, only in an 80 minute, sit down barrage of a performance. It begins with the myth of Perseus, son of Danaë and Zeus, who was prophesied to kill his grandfather, the King Acrisius, which, of course, he accidentally does despite everyone’s best efforts.

This tale is then woven through Kentridge’s attempts to explore the concept of time – its relentless march forward, its reversal, its encapsulation in objects. Kentridge and his team have attempted to transform time into sound, and from there manipulate it. Kentridge himself lectures on the topic while behind him and all around him, opera singers (Ann Masina and Joanna Dudley) sing backwards as well as forwards, musicians play Phillip Miller’s halting, staccato rhythms, strange mechanisms roll on and off gesticulating uselessly, Catherine Meyburgh’s film design animates the back wall, and dancer Dada Masilo fills the spaces with the chaotic beauty of her movement. The piece is, ultimately, a work of expensive performance art – obscure, deliberately cluttered and regularly incomprehensible, but also transfixing and overwhelming in the sheer skill involved in its performance.

In the program, Kentridge talks about the show’s many starting points and its accumulation of collaborators, ‘Until there was more team than project – and then the project filled the gaps.’

Refuse the Hour definitely tastes like the food of many chefs. It could definitely be read as a pretentious display of obscurity that successfully bamboozles an audience into praise, for fear of admitting a lack of understanding. It could also be read as a liberated work of genius, a gleeful rampage of artists at the top of their game. The experience of watching is equally frazzling and exhilarating. On opening night, the curtain call was a performance in itself, nearly ten minutes of rapturous applause and bowing – though it became difficult to tell whether it the audience, or the performers, who were perpetuating such high praise.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Refuse the Hour

Performers: William Kentridge, Dada Masilo, Ann Masina, Joanna Dudley, Thato Motlhaolwa
Musicians: Adam Howard, Tlale Makhene, Waldo Alexander, Dan Selsick, Vincenzo Pasquariello, Thobeka Thukane

Conception and libretto: William Kentridge

Music composition: Philip Miller
Choreography: Dada Masilo
Dramaturgy: Peter Galison
Video design: Catherine Meyburgh, William Kentridge
Scenic design: Sabine Theunissen
Movement: Luc de Wit
Costume design: Greta Goiris
Machine design: Christoff Wolmarans, Louis Olivier, Jonas Lundquist

Lighting design: Felice Ross
Sound design: Gavan Eckhart
Video orchestration: Kim Gunning
Music direction: Adam Howard
Music arrangement and orchestration: Philip Miller, Adam Howard

Technical director: Richard Pierre
Lighting operator: Marine Deballon
Sound engineer: Gavin Eckhart
Video manipulator: Kim Gunning 

Perth Concert Hall,
St Georges Terrace, Perth
Fri 11 – Sun 14 Feb 

Perth International Arts Festival
11 Feb – 16 Mar 2016

Zoe Barron
About the Author
Zoe Barron is a writer, editor and student nurse living in Fremantle, WA.