Ray Dimakarri Dixon with Moira Finucane, Mama Alto and Piera Dennertsein in The Rapture Chapter II: Art vs Extinction. Image: Jodie Hutchinson.
When Moira Finucane ascends to the cross-shaped catwalk that will be the evening’s stage at the beginning of The Rapture Chapter II: Art vs Extinction, every eye in fortyfivedownstairs is on her. She is captivating and magnificent. Decked out in voluminous couture with a two-metre train and reciting poetic incantations, she might give you the idea that you’re in for a certain type of evening, an evening of esoteric and dry academia. But this is not at all the case. What Finucane delivers is a lively, playful and eclectic mix of poetry, politics, visual art and music, moving between high drama, punk rock, personal anecdotes, burlesque cabaret and acoustic ballads to express a growing frustration at the inaction of politicians and society at large in the face of imminent climate catastrophe.
What could feel haphazard or accidental is unified by Finucane’s impressive presence which is so assured that everything that flows from it feels natural. Finucane is self-reflexive and sardonic to a fault: she says that she has mercifully edited her 3 hour and 45 minute epic poem in praise of arctic krill because she appreciates that her audience have other things to attend to – family lives and such. But the edited version suffices to communicate the myriad ways in which krill are the unappreciated linchpin of the arctic ecosystem.
Finucane is accompanied by the always wonderful Mama Alto, opera singer Piera Dennerstein, and pianist Rachel Lewindon, and the show also features singer/songwriter and water protector Ray Dimakarri Dixon, a Mudburra man from central Australia, performing his own compositions. At first, it might be unclear what the connection is between Dixon’s songs and larger environmental calamity story; Dixon is certainly not imposing or demonstrably angry the way that Finucane’s Ice Queen is, and to some degree it is the audience’s job to make the connections. Mudburra, a language from northwestern Northern Territory, is spoken fluently by only 50 people. Australia since colonisation exists within a narrative of extinction; the subtext of imperial acquisition is the extinction of certain customs, traditions, language, and people. Our willingness to accept this narrative, both nationally and internationally, is exactly what Finucane seeks to disrupt.
At times, the performance can feel a little didactic but in another sense, what’s the value of subtlety when you’re trying to tell the audience that 85% of the NT is under application for fracking licences? At other times, it can feel as if its point is obscured by its own artifice and a bit confused. But by and large the work manages to interrogate all its topics with wit and insight. The show is perhaps most of all extremely entertaining: funny, playful and intelligent.
The degree to which culture can affect material realities or prevent the apocalypse is still debatable, but The Rapture makes a good case for itself and it’s – thankfully and against the odds – very optimistic.
3.5 stars out of 5 ★★★☆
The Rapture Chapter II: Art vs Extinction
Presented by Finucane and Smith
Starring Moira Finucane, Mama Alto, Piera Dennerstein, Rachel Lewindon, and Ray Dimakarri Dixon
4-29 September 2019
Fortyfivedownstairs, Melbourne VIC