Tashmadada in the media

Anarchy: a user's guide in Spanish

The Age > Entertainment > Arts

Liza Power

TWO feet protrude from a wooden barrel, green sock on one, red on the other. The barrel rolls to the left then right before legs appear, followed by a pair of black shorts and a torso. A slender arm extends towards a nearby stake mounted with a tin letter box, next to which a man waltzes with the rusted skeleton of a single, fold-out bed. Behind him, a woman with a kitchen sink strapped to her shoulders rocks to and fro while the concrete by her feet is vacuumed by a figure disguised in a hard hat and surgical mask wielding a dilapidated carpet sweeper.

A tattered pram here, welding masks and abandoned car parts there - what could be a scene from a post-apocalyptic sci-fi film is, in fact, a workshop by Spanish performer Younes Bachir of the celebrated Catalan theatre collective La Fura dels Baus. Held in Open Channel's gargantuan Docklands shed, the 10-day Andante program was brought to Australia by local performance group Tashmadada.

Today's collaboration, no doubt amplified by searing 40-degree heat, fittingly captures the ferocious intensity that defines La Fura's signature style.

La fura is the Catalan term for ferret - a sewer rat, Bachir explains with a smirk. Dels Baus, he adds, denotes the district the company was working in when it formed in 1979.

In any La Fura production, the audience - often positioned centre stage - is, Bachir says, as integral to the show as the lighting, script or music.

Much of the workshop centres on how to perform confronting, violent and angry movements without terrifying onlookers or putting them at risk. La Furan performances work as exchanges; if the audience backs away, the show loses its dynamic appeal.

The group's reputation for provocative theatre is well founded. In their 2002 Sydney Festival performance of OBS: Macbeth, audience members were smeared with raw offal. In 2004, XXX courted controversy with its graphic depictions of sex and violence.

The company's contribution to the Barcelona Olympics opening ceremony marked a turn towards more palatable performance, (the organisers asked for ''less blood'' but they still got a few bloody moments into the show), but its production of Ligeti's opera La Grande Macabre, which will open next year's Adelaide Festival, still pushes boundaries - especially when the singers make their entrance through the rear end of a giant naked woman.

It is the company's reputation for testing and crossing such barriers that has attracted the 18 participants from around Australia to the Andante workshop. Drawn from a variety of disciplines (theatre, acrobatics, dance) and varying in age from 20 to their late 50s, the performers are six days into preparations for a show that will be staged tomorrow as part of Open Channel's 35th birthday celebrations.

The objects littering the shed were collected from the Darebin tip last weekend. As Bachir explains, incorporating found objects into performances is another La Furan penchant, as is smearing skin with clay and pigment. Performers were told to souvenir items that would remind them of home if they found themselves at the end of the world.

Today, Bachir directs the tangled web of metal and limbs while fellow La Fura collaborator Zamira Pasceri plays trance-like electronica and films their progress on camera.

For Bachir, who has collaborated with La Fura for more than 15 years, the starting point for the workshops is translating and teaching participants the company's specific ''La Furan'' performance language.

For performer and long-time follower Ira Seidenstein, the most appealing accent of the La Furan language lies in its unpredictability. ''I have worked in the theatre for many years, but mostly when we see performances of circus and theatre, they have a certain rhythm to them. La Fura is quite different. They might appear chaotic and violent when you watch them, but then you realise that beneath this spontaneity is a very complex approach to interaction.''

Seidenstein says this ''language'' allows performers the rare privilege of being ''truly individual within an ensemble cast'', a freedom that springs from a foundation of trust between members of the troupe. ''The language is based on feeling, intuition, the energy of a space and how a person responds to it.''

Sydneysider Meme Thorne likens the workshop to ''rediscovering an old friend''. A veteran of Sydney's avant-garde '80s theatre scene, Thorne feels Australian theatre has suffered a radical shift towards conservatism in the past 20 years.

''There used to be a language like the Furan language in Australia, based on visual, physical and gestural communication, but I'm not sure it's here now, at least in Sydney, anyway. I'm not interested in easily digestible theatrical landscapes. I want to be confronted and challenged.''

Being a little older than the sprightlier workshop members has not dented Thorne's enthusiasm. ''Many of the young performers have more physical energy, but there's a maturity and gravity that comes with experience. There is a raw honesty to this kind of theatre. It's about creating moments of poignancy, ethereal beauty, generosity, humility, passion, anger and fury. It's anarchic in some ways, but that's what theatre is supposed to do - remind people they're alive.''

The workshop performance will take place on Saturday at 6pm, Shed 4, North Wharf Road, Victoria Harbour, Docklands.

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