Sunday, October 6, 2013

Theatre review: Turbulence

<i>Turbulence</i> distils private poetry and sonic fascination.

Turbulence distils private poetry and sonic fascination. Photo: Chamber Made Opera

Reviewer rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

A living room in Northcote
Until October 12

Chamber Made Opera has been around for 25 years, but seems to have undergone a renaissance lately. It has ratcheted up its output of avant-garde lounge room operas, broadened its pool of collaborators, and boosted its profile by performing on main stages and at last year's Melbourne Festival.

To generalise about its chamber operas is impossible, because the work is so experimental. I've seen pieces that made me feel like I'd been abducted by aliens, and others that charmed the senses. Then there was The Minotaur Trilogy, which provoked one of the most open-minded critics I know to declare, "What a wank!" (I walked out.)

Fortunately Turbulence, although clearly intended for adventurous souls, takes us on an intriguing flight. Ushered into a loft-style Northcote apartment, a small audience is seated in serried ranks, facing a detached white wall. A ''flight attendant'' appears, offering warm hand towels before take-off.


The piece starts with discombobulating minimalism. The lights go out. A collection of desk fans is switched on, mimicking the sound of an aircraft's engine. Two performers, Deborah Kayser and Anneli Bjorasen, have taken their seats among the audience.

Kayser is sitting next to me and, disconcertingly, clicks her tongue and makes soft whirring noises as the fans thrum.

A recording of a baby's cry shatters the quiet. The lights go up and the singing starts.

Juliana Hodgkinson's composition is unusual, full of tremulous glissando and non-standard vocal technique against a synthesised score and a libretto (Cynthia Troup) using the metaphor of aeroplane flight to explore the subliminal eddies that underlie the mother/daughter relationship.

Kayser applies a delicate soprano and projects a nervy, birdlike presence, while Bjorasen's speaking role embodies the brashness of a younger woman stepping in the world.

There's panicked announcements and a final billowing of smoke into the cabin and, despite the odd misstep that has you eyeing the emergency exit, most of Turbulence distils private poetry and sonic fascination from that insight.
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