29 September 2016, Ralph Wilson Theatre, Gorman Arts Centre, Canberra
Wiggle Room? The name arouses curiosity. But on arriving at the Ralph Wilson my heart sank. ‘This is a standing show,’ we were told. I rather like sitting down to see a show. But, as it happened, the show was a stunner and, for ageing bodies like mine, there were stools for sitting on, when that was possible given the nature of the show.
Wiggle Room was part of a new program in the ACT, Ralph Indie, named for Ralph Wilson, who died in 1994 and who was both a former principal of Canberra High School and a producer of unconventional and thought-provoking theatre shows in Canberra. Wiggle Room was performed by dancer Alison Plevey, singer Ruth O’Brien, and Cher Albrect and Deb Cleland, two artists from the Canberra-based women’s aerial dance and circus arts group, Solco Acro. Like Wilson’s shows, Wiggle Room was also unconventional and thought-provoking.
The work was inspired by and named after an essay by Sara Ahmed and examined the politics of space. Who can occupy a certain space? Who must move aside to let another take up the space? And this explains the need for it to be a ‘standing show’. The entire space of Ralph Wilson Theatre was used by the performers and for those of us sitting on stools, and indeed those standing around the edges of the space, there was the need on occasions to move so that the performers could occupy the space we were inhabiting. No such thing as a designated aisle and seat number.
Some of the movement happened on swinging hoops, or with the performers twisting themselves around lengths of red cloth hanging from the ceiling. Some took place against the walls with the performers attached to a kind of harness. There were moments when bikes were driven at break-neck speed around the space. Even the usual seating in the Ralph Wilson Theatre had been folded back and this fold-back space used by the performers.
The work was, however, more than simply about space. The notion of the politics of space came over loud and clear, on the one hand through spoken word and song, and on the other by the interpretations of the words by the performers. There were feminist references, references to workplace issues, and issues about personal space, for example.
But what made Wiggle Room a work to be reckoned with was the way in which these issues surrounding the politics of space were addressed in such an engaging and often hilarious way. It was so easy to recognise the situations presented to us, it was so easy and pleasurable to laugh at what was happening. And yet there was always the lingering knowledge of a political message.
Perhaps my favourite moment came when the three performers found themselves together in the confined space of a slip-off mattress cover made from flimsy material—shades of Martha Graham’s Lamentation, without the 1930s seriousness. I have to admit to thinking ‘Eat your heart out, Martha.’ This was so much more enjoyable.
All in all a funny, strangely serious, and rather remarkable evening.
Michelle Potter, 30 September 2016
All photos © Justin Ryan