Angus Cerini is a solo performer with a strong dance/physical theatre background. His works deal largely with contemporary masculinity and through his company doubletap, explore issues of social justice.

He recently returned from a tour of Germany and the UK where his work Detest (this thousand years I shall not weep), was nominated for a Jury Prize at the Berlin 100degrees Festival and awarded Best Male Act at the Belltable Festival in Ireland.

Angus spoke to Simon Piening about his latest work, Chapters from the pandemic

Angus Cerini You’ve been dancing since you were a child, studying ballet when you were younger and at one point seriously considered trying out for the Australian Ballet. What was the initial attraction to dance?

I am the youngest of four children. My sister started ballet so my second eldest brother decided he would tag along, then the eldest said "well I am the eldest I have to go along" and me being the youngest, well, I didn't really have a choice. But I loved it. We studied at a ballet school run by Sue and Kevin Hayes, and also sometimes Laurel Martyn. Then we became involved in a company called Young Dancers Theatre which involved rehearsals all days Saturday and a two week school holiday season each September. No Billy Elliot moment, though, it was just something I did and came to love. Funny being the smallest boy in a place, you do get looked after - as well as being a pest I suppose, as well as fighting to jump as high as the older boys.

You studied at the VCA – how important was that in terms of getting started as a professional artist/getting a foothold in the industry? What did you gain most from your time at VCA?

I studied a Creative Arts degree which was part of the School of Studies in Creative Arts which was on the University of Melbourne campus in Carlton. This was a fantastic time in my life, where we made art half the time and studied art the rest of the time, but basically, it was all about having coffee, talking art and making projects. I got heavily involved in University Theatre, and basically did about 8 shows a year as an actor for my time there. Mixing with other young artists was sublime, the level of interesting conversation and enquiry, about everything from politics to whatever was really nurturing and supportive. I formed close friendships with a number of incredible people, probably chief amongst them Lally Katz. We pushed each other. You have to remember that I grew up in the outer suburbs where there were absolutely no gay people (not that we knew - or who hadn't killed themselves), no Aboriginal people and absolutely no understanding of anything much really apart from getting stoned and munching out at the seven eleven. Just being around people in an environment of creative endeavour was inspiring in so many ways. Destroy the institution, just buy everyone a coffee!

In your solo work you’ve developed a highly physical style of performance – to what extent does your classical background inform your current work?

This work has no text, and yes, I do enjoy the physical side of things. But I have problems with dance, it is just so damn infuriating, like, here are the themes, figure it out! My classical background has been important - in the sense that we would do ballets where there is an actual story being told - such as Peter and the Wolf, or Cinderella, or what have you. But then you get contemporary dance, which is really non prescriptive, it just sort of says - have a think. While the world of the 'play' is also so damn stupid. It's like, here it all is, just watch these wankers do the story. I am really trying to meld those two forms, where there is an area of indecision and where the audiences capacity for exploring the themes in their own heads merges with a strong dramatic logic. I am calling my style of performance in this piece 'dance acting'  How wanky is that!!?? Just that I dance more than an actor, but I act more than a dancer. Therefore, there is two ways of approaching this new work: one part of the work is unexplained, and has a whole world for an audience to figure out through my movement/acting, while the second part is a dramatic journey which is signposted, much like a play. But there are no words. 

Recently in Berlin it was striking to see so much 'performance'. Two things I continually thought when watching this treasure trove of art: 1. Australian artists are right up there and we are just as good - often times far superior to our continental cousins. 2. The terms 'theatre' and 'dance' are largely irrelevant. In Berlin at least, it is simply performance. The forms and styles drawn on are immense, backed up by a society raised on an appreciation for the arts. This society sees nothing wrong with appreciating dance in the same way you would a play. Often in the same production. This isn't to say that everything is cross genre, more that audiences aren't that fussed whether they see a dance show or a theatre show, simply because it is still live art. 

Your works often deal with issues of social justice and feature a central character who is angry, disadvantaged or disenfranchised in some way. How did you become interested in those issues? Where did the anger/outrage come from?

Australia is the lucky country, so why are we so stupid? When a ten year old boy is being molested/followed/molested/followed/molested/followed/molested and is screaming and trying to escape his clutches and a crowded train packed with Christmas shoppers does absolutely nothing and boy feels fear onwards, why would he care if they all die in Bali?

When a group of pissed idiots verbally assaults elderly women, and dorky young guys, and a single person tells them to shut up, then they beat the crap out of him and again a packed train of people at 6.25pm on a sunday evening in august do absolutely nothing, why would I care if all the people on that train die in a landslide?

When you leave the suburbs of Melbourne and come to Brunswick and suddenly see racial harmony, and realise that racism is a lack of intelligence, and all that shit, why would you care if the bulk of Australia gets wiped out by a plague?

I guess what I am saying is this: we do nothing, but there are so many of us who have suffered under this. I want to explode the idea of complacency.

Anyway, why is it that man molested?

Why is it those guys kicked head?

If we can figure that stuff out, we can perhaps stop it happening to another poor kid. 
{xtypo_quote_right} I am drawn to the lone person and their story. How often is it that we get to listen to one person for long enough? {/xtypo_quote_right}
Recently, talking to a friend, we were discussing her gender studies lecturer at uni. This academic has a philosophy of saying amongst other things that all hetero sex is basically male masturbation. Okay, so I got hot under the collar, but after we calmed down, it emerged that her position was one where men should be ignored by women, and they should become entirely self sufficient, that men are a danger. I differ in this, in that I think men are actually okay - especially when you throw some empathy at the situation. Basically, we are both in agreement: men are animals and if we were going to recreate the human race would we seriously have penises again? I don't think so.

In short, men fuck the world, but there are reasons. We can either try to ignore men and throw them away (which is an impractical path - dare I say impossible), or we can strive to learn from them, and work to adjust their behaviours.

I see myself as part of a larger movement in pushing socially forward ideas or themes into the public eye, therefore the discourse can happen. I look at the attitude to sexual abuse of children in Ireland compared to here, and we are truly far more advanced in terms of how we as a society are able to explore and discuss these issues now. This trend will only expand. The more the merrier. If I can play a small part in telling stories and marketing them as art, make a living while philosophising on what we must do, then in my own little way, I am doing something. Or at the very least, I am coming to terms with it in my own head. It is confusing, I just don't understand.
Your works are mostly one-man shows, which presents challenges and freedoms of its own. What attracts you to performing solo? Do you ever wish there was someone else on stage with you?

I do plenty of works as a performer or writer or what have you as part of an ensemble. Especially as a solo performer, there is an enormous team that supports my vision. So, in short, while there is only me on stage, there is a world an audience don't see that is just as crucial. Sure, I am carrying the weight of the production, but it wouldn't be what it is without the team.

I am drawn to the lone person and their story. How often is it that we get to listen to one person for long enough? 

I enjoy the form of the solo performer. I love that there is so much to play with, it is a challenge and it has an aesthetic all to itself.

I prefer solo work, simply because I am ego driven and a perfectionist. I just don't want to hand over my art to anyone else.

I am a painter in his studio in front of an audience. I have canvas stretchers, assistants to clean up once a week, I have an agent who represents me to clients, I have a network of peers and associates...

I am basically an ego maniac and a control freak!!!  :)
Chapters from the pandemic | Angus CeriniYour new work, Chapters from the pandemic, is about the last man alive at the end of the world. Tell us about the show...

The world is coming to an end.

A brilliant scientist knows this, so he sets out to create a creature that will let humanity live on.

Bird flu strikes the planet, so the humans kill all of the birds.  In doing so, most people on earth die, along with the birds.

Then because there is nothing to eat all the insects, there is a resultant insect infestation.  Along with causing diseases, the sheer number of insects cause madness amongst the humans that are left and decimate crops and all that jazz. So humans just destroy all the insects. But in so doing, they actually destroy the fragile balance the planet rests on. 

All the living things on earth perish. The world is dead.

Meanwhile, this creature the brilliant scientist has made is living merrily on in his laboratory. There comes a time when he comes of age and he emerges into this barren destroyed world.

The show is about him learning about himself and about what has befallen the planet.

For this production, you’ve employed the same team that created Saving Henry – how does that collaboration affect/influence the work?

Just starting again, without having to get to know how each other works is incredibly supportive. For instance, I can almost understand what another artists is thinking when they describe something in a certain way.  Likewise, when something doesn't strike me as being on the right path, a collaborator will not take things in the wrong spirit if my bluntness is exposed. The way we know each other as human beings carries a lot of power.  It is a nurturing and supportive environment.

Last time we might have struggled to be understood, now we almost have a head start on that.

Chapters from the pandemic opens August 9 at fortyfivedownstairs. Further information»

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