‘Trauma, its aftershocks, its fragmentation, its strange, loud silence.’ Alison Croggon on Rawcus’ Song for a Weary Throat
We live in traumatic times. Not only is almost every aspect of our world approaching crisis – human civilisation itself facing its disintegration through the breakdown of our climate, with all the social unravelling such an existential threat implies – but everything is available to us all the time. We can follow all the symptoms of ongoing crisis in real time on Twitter and Facebook.
Chronic trauma, the slow accumulation of shock, is the tenor of our collective consciousness in the 21st century. It can’t be said that the human race is dealing with it very well. One reason might be the effect that trauma has on memory and perception: it profoundly affects the way we process our experience. Memory becomes fragmented, experience is charged with overwhelming, often unrelated emotion. Trauma affects how we receive and process facts, so that beyond our autobiographical understanding of ourselves, even our semantic understanding of the world around us becomes distorted.
Collective trauma explains a lot of things that are now commonplace, from the catastrophic denials that all but confirm our current disastrous course, to the prevalence of conspiracy theories, to the absolutist aggression that dominates so much of the public sphere. We talk a lot about all these things, but there’s almost no discussion of trauma. Mental illness is mostly discussed as if it’s solely an individual concern, rather than an aspect of a complex and interrelated tangle of social problems.
Song for a Weary Throat, directed by Kate Sulan, is a work that begins to approach this contemporary state of existence. Devised and performed by Rawcus Ensemble, a company of artists both with and without disabilities, in collaboration with the Invenio Singers, it’s a work of dance theatre that explores trauma as a collective, existential experience.
It’s set in a kind of post-apocalyptic dance hall strewn with dead leaves, up-ended chairs, rolled up carpets and other detritus. As the audience enters, a woman is sitting on the floor, reading a well-worn paperback. When the doors finally shut on the auditorium, she gets up and chalks on a blackboard a loose translation of the opening lines from Dante’s Divine Comedy. Remembered approximately: “half through my life, I found myself in a dark forest, all roads to the future blotted out”.
Then: darkness. Deafening sound, a blinding flash of light. In the light there are now bodies strewn across the stage, as if thrown by a blast. Darkness, sound, light. Bodies again, but moved. And again. Bodies, survivors, moving. Trauma, its aftershocks, its fragmentation, its strange, loud silence.
What follows over the next hour is a series of mostly wordless, precisely choreographed tableaux. What do people do when the worst happens? How do they pick themselves up, dust themselves off, begin to recollect their humanity? Do they dance? It seems that they dance. They embrace, they are alone and also together. They are hostile to each other. They save themselves and each other, they drown, they abandon themselves and each other. They repeat themselves, repeat the trauma, attempting to discover a sense, a harmony, a dance, in the midst of what is broken.
The sense of the complexity of human behaviour is reinforced by the ensemble itself, which consists of a far broader range of human bodies than we generally see on our stages. There are intensely moving moments that expose our vulnerability – moments of joy and beauty that express the human desire to create even among the rubble of catastrophe, or the generosity of touch.
The action is driven by the sound, which is astonishing. This is a show that reminds you that sound is visceral, a vibration sensed through the whole body. Jethro Woodward has long been once of our best theatre composers and sound designers, and for this work he has teamed up with the Invenio Singers, a group of innovative vocal artists. The three singers are part of the ensemble on stage, but distinguished by their black costumes. Sometimes they are foregrounded as performers, sometimes we are only aware of their voices, soaring in harmony or percussive lips and breath.
Song for a Weary Throat is beautiful, ambitious work from Rawcus, presented with a fearlessness characteristic of our best independent companies. And somehow it gets underneath the noise to something like the core of our current predicament.
Song for a Weary Throat, devised and performed by The Rawcus Ensemble and Invenio Singers, directed by Kate Sulan, associate director Ingrid Voorendt. Set and costumes by Emily Barrie. lighting realisation by Rachel Burke after original lighting design by Richard Vabre, musical direction and composition by Jethro Woodward and Gian Slater, sound design by Jethro Woodward, director Invent Singers Gian Slater. Performed by Clement Baade, Hannah Bradsworth, Michael Buxton, Harriet Devlin, Rachel Edward, Nilgun Guven, Joshua Lynzaat, Paul Matley, Mike McEvoy, Ryan New, Kerryn Poke, Leisa Prowd, Louise Riisik, Prue Stevenson and Danielle von der Borch. Invenio Singers: Josh Kyle, Louisa Rankin and Gian Slater. Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre Melbourne, as part of the Melbourne International Festival of the Arts. Until October 14.
Suitable for people over the age of 15. Not appropriate for children. Contains loud and sudden noises, bright lights, haze, smoke and dust effects. This is a highly visual performance.
Wheelchair accessible event
Sound applications systems available
Show notes for Deaf audience members
Resource video for Deaf audience members
Resource video for audience members with sensory sensitivities
Pre show sensory familiarisation session: 1.15PM Saturday, October 13: Prior to the 2PM performance, those with sensory sensitivities can take part in a familiarisation session. Bookings essential. Contact the Arts Centre Melbourne box office on 1300 182 183.