I feel that a Fringe show that is 'promenade' and 'site-specific' theatre, sits in a similar category to films that star – insert prominent character-actor's name – as a schizophrenic/cross-dresser/boxer/famous crazy-person. It is a recipe for success. I have not yet seen these kinds of shows done badly. This is not only because that kind of theatre is what Fringe audiences love seeing, but because that kind of theatre demands commitment and talent on a large scale.
That being said, The Chants Collective, sub-set of the Present Tense Collective, push the boundaries of this form and 'deliver' big-time. Chants bursts out the sides of its 60-minute, sandstone scope.
Unfortunately, you will not see Chants des Catacombes again at this year's Adelaide Fringe. I saw the final performance (largely because of the good grace of the roving box office man), and was more relieved than anything to be able to see the sold-out 'cross artform' show that people have muttering loudly about in venue foyers.
To begin with, the performances of the three women playing murdered femme fatales trapped in the Paris Catacombes, was outstanding. It is no longer acceptable, it seems, to be merely 'triple-threat' (Dancer! Singer! Actor!). The Chants Collective, largely compiled from VCA alumni, merge the disciplines seamlessly. They incorporate swirling and gutteral recantations of pop-songs – hinged on an amazing atmospheric soundscape from Melbourne band, The Twoks – with ghostly and grounded dance-like physicality, and poetic monologue that punches you in gut and sling-shots you between the eyes.
The tales of each woman are deftly folded together, then cleaved apart, suspended, then accelerated – in the same way that the audience is lead through the ground floor of the Gaol. Each time we're held in a node, it's entrancing, only to be snapped out of it and moved-on.
I would love to see the show at the Fringe that has a better ensemble than this one. The three women were astounding in their own right, but so complete was the physical, vocal, musical, and spatial experience that it would violate the show to single one out. The extensive collaborative team are clearly across every gorgeous, brutal element of the Chants design, harmonising or dischording at will.
It was electric. I was sweating. I didn't want it to end. Every image was captivating, and the confusing immediacy of emotion – either conveyed at feel-your-body-heat closeness or empathetically felt – rings and reappears memorially long after the performance is over.
Chants affects you how theatre is supposed to. Look out for the Present Tense Collective in the future.
The Chants Collective present
Chants Des Catacombes
Venue: Adelaide Gaol
Dates: Feb 24 - 29, 2012