Carriageworks, Redfern, NSW
Thursday May 29, 2008
If you were expecting a Guns ‘n’ Roses tribute band, you’d be sorely disappointed. Instead, Branch Nebula’s production of Paradise City is something of an urbanized Breakfast Club. But in the place of the beauty and the brain (et al), we meet an acrobat, a skateboarder, a BMX rider, a b-boy, a dancer and a singer. And like Breakfast Club, this lean, muscular contemporary dance piece throws these talented kids into the cavernous ring at Sydney’s Carriageworks, and shows us what makes these performers similar, rather than different.
Paradise City ebbs and flows through the collective experience of city living interpreted by the Gen Y performers as a frantic, anarchic, chaotic experience, which at times can literally corner and crush you. With the only words spoken being sung by the haunting Inga Liljestrom, the first climax of the work sees all five performers running, dancing, riding and leaping over each other in a carefully choreographed, nail-biting expression of the dangerous balance our fast city life is built on, an extremely impressive distillation of the ideas explored in the work as a whole.
The overall aggression expressed in this sequence continues to underpin the work – even the occasional playful streak is tough and masculine. A little more light, wit or exploration of the positives of urban life may have been an interesting place to take the pervading menace simmering under Paradise City’s surface. The exception to this was the work of b-boy Anthony “Lamaroc” Lawang, an innovative, entertaining performer who stole the show with every clever routine.
The idea of such diverse artists working together and the reimagination of BMX bikes and skateboards as performers themselves, provides much food for thought, such as what transforms the urban subculture of skateboarding from a form of transport to a type of artform? Taking DIY street culture out of the alleyways and onto the stage is clearly a great idea, but the trick lies in making this consistently engaging. Considering our entertainment culture is built on story to create meaning and maintain viewer tension, holding an audience for an hour of non-narrative artistic expression is like starting sex knowing there’ll be no orgasm; at worst, an unsatisfying wash-out, at best, an invigorating rediscovery of the rules you thought you knew. While Paradise City displayed some truly memorable group sequences, more development and an overall tighter, faster pace may have resulted in more of a turn-on, and turn out (the audience was roughly 20% of capacity).
However overall Paradise City definitely deserves all the spoils of city love – a round of Cosmos, perhaps? – for its futuristic, bold exploration of the new breed busy ducking and weaving with the greatest of ease through our big bad city.
Paradise City is tours nationally.