Random Acts was staged in the TelstraClear Club, part of the temporary accommodation for the Christchurch Arts Festival – a strangely futurist camp of luminous white domes, sparkling lights and carnival tent erected under the trees of North Hagley Park. Surreal, yet utterly safe, it has no solid structure to intimidate its earthquake-shy audience.
An intimate saloon/cabaret setting allowed an intense conversation between music and dance. One darkly hued set followed another – each one fabulously noir, so pitch black. Red chairs served as springboards; the piano was lounged on, stroked, hammered. The audience, drinking and dining in booths around the edge, were unwitting extras.
Milsom, Erica Viedma and Aleasha Seaward arrived at the bar with battered suitcases, forlorn despite their feather boas and flowers. Entrapped, they found themselves on stage in saloon-style costumes, daring bodices and lacy stockings, slips of dresses. Sinister maestro Paul Young, white faced, red lips curling into a sneer, dominated them with cruel diffidence and strength – in one moment lifting Viedma and Seaward on each arm. Milsom’s choreography was earthy, athletic and elemental, suggesting the arbitrariness of life’s blows – and yet sensitive connections transcended the force.
With seamless integration, the band – Chris Reddington, Rick Harvie, Michael Kime, Ben Eldridge, Emma Johnston and Nadia Reid – created their own theatrics or complemented the dance. Johnston and Reid were mesmeric vocalists – embracing numbers from Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht along with desolate struggle-street country and biting contemporary songs.
Evocative covers of John Prine’s Angel from Montgomery, Mazzy Star’s Wasted and Jolie Holland’s Old Fashioned Morphine sucked the life out of the dancers. Washed-up girl danced too close to girl; they wilted, dull-eyed. Then with desperate animation, they ramped it up to Jelly Roll Morton’s The Dirty Dozen.
Despite a hint of redemption and ending with Bob Dylan’s I Shall Be Released, what prevailed was the grim notion that reality is unkind – be it an earthquake-torn city, the emptiness of modern society or an unfulfilled life. So desolate it was heartwarming, the utter hopelessness a soothing refrain, the crazy buffoonery hilarious.
RANDOM ACTS OF GOD AND OTHER STORIES, Corrupt Productions, TelstraClear Club, Christchurch, August 27 and 28, as part of the Christchurch Arts Festival.