A struggle to reclaim lost memories begins on a murky stage with a confusing trip to the doctor’s office. We learn there has been an accident, and then our perception bends; there are two patients, two doctors, and time elapses between their words. We catch the phrase, “what do you remember before...?” and then nothing else.
The Memory Progressive blends dance movement with theatrical text, animated projections and a blistering score, to examine the aftermath of severe memory loss. Focusing their research on retrograde amnesia, Amy Macpherson and James Welsby created scenes inspired by these trauma cases, focusing on mental health practices that help patients to reconstruct their memories while trying to decipher which ones are real.
Macpherson and Welsby perform with collaborators Lily Paskas and Rennie McDougall in eerie symmetry. I could feel the divide between doctor and patient, man and woman, and self and other, as they moved in unison. This ghostly shadowing recalls the fractured psyche of an amnesia patient, and the ensemble kept excellent time to perfect their doubling.
An intriguing reference in The Memory Progressive is to the Ganzfeld experiments of the 1920’s, which proposed that sensory deprivation could heighten one’s telepathic abilities. Applying this theory to an amnesia patient adds another tension in the struggle for recall. With the aid of blindfolds, the ensemble wades through the dark recesses of the mind to see what is underneath the fog. Paskas and Macpherson lead Welsby and McDougall around the stage, transmitting thoughts to them with the use of a garbled walkie-talkie. It is a gripping moment, where the frustration of losing ones self is all too conceivable.
The projections by James Brown are a little too psychedelic at times, not really adding to the action but instead deviating into hallucinogenic territory. His imagery is reminiscent of early mental health practices, with inkblots melting into kaleidoscopes perhaps suggesting the use of electroshock. Brown’s sonic compositions mix hypnotherapy with electronic rhythm to give the movement great imputes. A calm section (taken from a weight loss tape?) actually seemed to lull the audience into a stupor – demonstrating the power of suggestion.
Macpherson and Welsby’s choreography juxtaposes intimate movements with visceral power in a fractured chronology. After immense research, and with extensive knowledge of their subject, the ensemble creates a taunt and hypnotic performance haunted by psychological specters. The Memory Progressive moves beyond words to physically articulate the ambiguity and terror of memory loss, positing an unknowable future emerging from an unremembered past.
It is fitting that Macpherson and Welsby named their company Phantom Limbs. Formed in 2008, their first full work Concrete Solace, toured extensively and won them the 2009 Moving Works Audience Choice Award and Theatre Works Industry Development Award. The Memory Progressive was performed in another incarnation as part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival under the title Gazfeld Frequency. Their latest collaboration, Further Fantasy, is coming up in April.
Phantom Limbs present
The Memory Progressive
Venue: fortyfivedownstairs | 45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne
Dates: Wed 24 - Sat 27 Feb, 2010
Duration: 50 mins (approx)
Tickets: $23 Full | $18 Concession
Bookings: (03) 9662 9966 | www.fortyfivedownstairs.com