22 October 2010

Review: Tomorrow, in a year

MIAF 2010
Tomorrow, in a year
Hotel Pro Forma
Melbourne International Arts Festival
20 October 2010
the Arts Centre, State Theatre
to 23 October

I hated the first 20 or so minutes of Tomorrow, in a year. Hate is a strong word, but I just didn't get why I was there. Not long after, I didn't want this extraordinary and beautiful art to end. Somewhere along the way it all made complete sense and my brain and my heart worked together to be captivated in a way that will make me resent theatre that doesn't leave me feeling so alive and inspired.

There's been little controversy at this year's festival. Sure, people have liked and disliked shows, but none have provoked such extremes as the first two performances of Tomorrow, in a year. Words like pretentious, banal and "like a Monty Python satire" have been tweeted with abandon; while at the bar after the show all I heard were superlatives like astonishing and sublime. My own tweet was: Fuck me wow.

Danish company Hotel Pro Forma worked with Swedish electronic music wonders The Knife to create what's being called electro pop opera. I know how influential and amazing The Knife are because I talked with a self-confessed entertain-me-now, young and gorgeous gen Y after the show. The Knife's music brought her to her first opera and her fifth theatre experience. She got it. It's not just for the pretentious types who have seen hundreds of theatre shows.

Atmospheric electronic sounds and recorded natural sounds combine with three disparate voices – remarkable operatic soprano (Kristina Wahlin), electro-pop (Jonathon Johansson) and actor/singer (Laerke Winther) – that are enhanced, manipulated and allowed to sound like themselves. As the music develops its complexity and structure, the effect is like the first time you realise that caramel and salt belong together or you fall in love with someone who's not your type.

Inspired by Charles Darwin's Origin of Species, Hotel Pro Forma explore his wonder, confusion and awe of the natural world that us humans had barely begun to appreciate. This wonder changed the way humanity sees itself. At a time when creationism is still being taught to children and climate change skeptics are slowing our political and personal reactions (and taking up far too much of our media space), perhaps we need to be reminded of the complexity, indescribable beauty and adaptive qualities of our world.

But Darwin was just a man and suffered loss and experienced love like the rest of us. Humanity is brought into the world with a gentle narrative about the death of his daughter. When the libretto changes from it's poetic descriptions of nature to "We have lost the joy of the household", the work moves from an exploration of beauty to something human and emotional and reminds us how we too can and will adapt when our lives change without our consent. 

The design of a giant light box, back projections and laser light at first seems at odds with the descriptions of entombed animal carcasses and the costumes reminded me far too much of Blakes 7 (80s BBC sci fi), but it didn't take long to understand the contradictions. The dancers, who looked like they belong at a rave dedicated to The Knife, moved like seaweed dancing "upon the moving mountain of foam" or like plant cells multiplying and reaching to the sunlight, and the design moved to reveal its workings (and satisfy our curiosity) and become something new.

If the music had been live, the experience would be lifted to a new level – that's me just wanting more icing on the cake – but it's frustrating that the design didn't incorporate the surtitles  (that were always going to be there) into the stage picture. After The Blue Dragon's recent mid-titles, I never want sur- or sub-titles to pull my attention away from the stage again.

There's two more performances or Tomorrow, in a year. It's probably best that you don't trust to us who write, tweet or drunkenly slur our opinions at the Curve bar and discover for yourself what you think about it.

This review appears on AussieThearte.com 

Photo by Claudi Thyrrestrup

If you've bought your ticket, don't watch this as it gives away some wonderful moments (Hotel Pro Forma put it on YouTube, so it's not filmed by some twat in an audience) – but if you're umming and erring, it might help you decide if it's your kind of show.

If you're like me, you'll want to go here and get the soundtrack.


  1. I agree that the music was sublime, but I found the lyrics incredibly banal and passionless, while the disparate elements of the show (dance, music, lighting, set etc) never felt like they combined into a whole; instead it struck me as haphazardly assembled & badly directed. And the surfboard being paraded around at the end gave me the giggles.

  2. I even liked the naff surfboard!

    It always amazes me how every person sees such a different show. And that none of us have a definitive opinion. I now want to see more shows that people hate...

    and please read Richard's blog (richard_watts.blogspot.com) and listen to Smart Arts on RRR

  3. Thanks for the plug! And yes, I agree: I love that art is such a subjective experience, and I especially love a show that divides its audiences and generates discussion and argument, even when I didn't love the show itself.