What makes a performance successful?
Is it the fulfillment of the performer’s intention? Is it a neatly coherent narrative? Is it a happy audience? Is it the amount of applause produced at the conclusion of the piece? How do we know whether a show has reached it’s full potential? And how then do we deem whether it was ‘successful’ or not?
Questions such as these inform the basis of Sydney dance company The Fondue Set’s new show No Success Like Failure. Developed in collaboration with UK based director Wendy Houston (DV8, Forced Entertainment) performers Emma Saunders, Elizabeth Ryan and Jane McKernan explore slippery notions of expectation, disappointment and failure through a fractured combination of dance, physical theatre, text and song.
No Success Like Failure is a self-consciously performed performance. The audience is never allowed to forget that this is a constructed or better yet, deconstructed reality. From the very entrance of the audience within the space, the traditionally hidden mechanisms of the theatre are laid bare. The performers change clothes and hairstyles, move props and wait in the wings all in full view of the audience. The piece contains constant references to ‘the show’ and what it will or will not contain, reminding us that what we are going to view has been carefully devised and developed.
Yet having said that, there is a kind of looseness within the structure of the piece. It sometimes appears as if the show is an independent entity, morphing and evolving before our very eyes. One gets the impression that this is a sort of twisted television Tonight Show, a surreal variety hour where dreamscape characters spout exposition and disappear down textual tangents as if they were rabbit holes.
The Fondue Set manipulate notions of expectation in performance. A post-show discussion happens pre-show. The performers talk themselves in circles, reiterating what has already been said and pounding the point home long after it has been made and made again, testing the audience’s endurance and attention span. Several segments of the show are pursued long after their potential has been exhausted, exiling the performers within a self-imposed downward spiral, leaving them in a performative netherworld with no concluding point to cling to.
Which is not to say that sections of the show didn’t hit their nail squarely and firmly on the head. The unison choreography sections were stunning both technically and conceptually and the ‘Everybody Hurts’ sad dance was an absolute showstopper.
No Success Like Failure is a conceptually fascinating show containing a plethora of rich ideas and resonant images. Some were dangled in front of the audience until we grew monstrously tired of them and longed to escape their gaze. Some were snatched tantalizingly away before we barely even caught a glimpse.
But given the premise, the proverbial tree in the forest analogy can best sum up No Success Like Failure.
If the concept of a show is failure and the show fails then is it a success?
I’m still not sure. But it’s an interesting question.
Arts House presents
No Success Like Failure
The Fondue Set
Venue: Arts House, North Melbourne Town Hall | 521 Queensberry Street, North Melbourne Mel Ref: 2A J10
Dates: Wednesday 13 to Saturday 16 August 2008
Times: 7.30pm. 70 minutes no interval
Tickets: $25 / $18
Bookings: artshouse.com.au or 03 9639 0096