Don’t be put off by the headline. Like the picture on a paperback, the header is there to grab attention, and is certainly not intended to suggest that Forest Collective were anything other than competent professionals putting on an intriguing mix of art forms in a collaborative endeavour which, in the main, worked very well. What prompted the headline was concern about the economics of the performance, this in the context of recent social media discussion about paying artists less than award rates. Your correspondent does not see a problem with this, but with a group which must have numbered twenty odd, and tickets at $30, it is hard to see the performers making much at all. They should go with our blessing and our hope that as audiences build, their remuneration will improve.
Forest Collective is a young, genre crossing, group of artists, formed in 2009, after initial collaborations as students, under the guidance of Artistic Director Evan Lawson. The collective currently program a small number of performances a year in, predominantly, performance spaces of the Abbotsford Convent in Melbourne. The works can range from straight song recitals (“Shared Songs” 11.00am, Stones of the Yarra Valley, Coldstream VIC. August 18), through instrumental ensembles to chamber opera. Eschewing specialisation ensures their, as yet seemingly small, band of enthusiastic followers a rich palette of artistic experiences. What differentiates the collective is an apparent desire to sometimes challenge the conventional by offerings involving diverse artistic forms, loosely connected, albeit by somewhat tenuous threads.
The performance of “Shared Lines” last Saturday was such an event, drawing together chamber music, visual and performance art, inspired by the “rambling walls and rooms of the Rosina Auditorium”, a large barn like space which perhaps originally served as convent refectory. Soprano Rosemary Ball opened proceedings with a soaring performance of ‘Oh, Quand Je Dors’ by Liszt. Your correspondent liked to think this was perhaps how the nuns may have given thanks before their evening meal, calling on their Lord to “come and stand by my bed”, rather than with the more likely dull plainsong. A fine opener, yet one that belied the following piece of theatre. This work, ‘Fixation’, written and directed by Stephanie Osztreicher, opened with a deftly performed dance like routine by a maidservant, joined by glowing moths, expressing some longings for an unspecified male. That male turns out to be a rather aggressive master of a household, including two girls who also seem to crave attention, but through more childlike pranks and intense expressions of desire for personal gratification and the material. The audience is brought up into the “house” to experience close at hand the master’s fixation with moths and a particular insect like creature kept in a large glass jar. The allegorical reference is to the moth’s attraction to heat and light which, of course, ultimately leads to death. For the humans here it is love that attracts, while the death experienced is not literal but, rather, a breakdown in mutual relationships.
Musical performances then continued, but with the actors remaining in character, moving around the auditorium. At the same time an interactive visual and musical work began in a side room of the “house”. Entitled “Pandora”, this experience was a little difficult to conceive as part of the overall texture of the evening. Overlong, it also meant missing some of the other musical performances which, inter-alia, included a rather delightful rendition of an Enescu ‘Allegro de Concert’ for solo harp (Jessica Fotinos) and a performance of Benjamin Britten’s ‘Metamorphosen’ for solo oboe (Katia Lenzi). Not to ignore the other bi-centennial birthday boy, Wagner got a reference through a beautifully expressive performance of Traume by soprano Olivia Cranwell.
There was no formality to all of this. At any time the audience was free to roam the auditorium, listen, drink wine and observe the visual artefacts. A wooden sculpture, by Isabelle Rudolph, was made predominantly from drawer parts and found objects. What can drawers contain of secrets and past experiences? ‘Untitled’, three illustrations by Katherine Phillimore were quaint, although a rather sparse addition to the evening’s assemblage.
It is true that audiences nowadays crave something extra, to savour involvement and intimacy with artists as they go about their creative endeavours. To this extent the evening worked fairly well, although no one, anywhere, has quite worked out how to involve the audience, physically, in chamber music performances. Perhaps the singers might have risen from an audience chair, or moved around the hall amongst the audience. Be that as it may Forest Collective produced a most worthwhile and thought provoking evening’s entertainment.
Apart from the song recital mentioned above, the season finale will be ‘Shared Ethos: Calypso’, a chamber opera by Evan Lawson and Samuel Yeo.
Shared Ethos: Calypso
5, 6 and 7 December 2013
Industrial School, Abbotsford Convent VIC.