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Metafour

Premiere 27 August 1993
Venue U2, Universal Theatre, Fitzroy

reclining wire figure leaning back from threatening snake

Wired, (Lizz Talbot)
The Insider, (Avril McQueen)

Photographs: © Ponch Hawkes 1993


a rare opportunity to see experimental projects executed by skilled professional artists who are the best in their field

Fiona Scott-Norman: The Bulletin, September, 1993


METAFOUR was the first work programmed by Ken Evans when appointed Handspan's Artistic Director in 1993. It was produced to create an opportunity for experienced company members to focus on and develop their individual skills and ideas through visual theatre. Unlike the company's mainstage production earlier in the year, Viva La Vida - Frida Kahlo which was staged with actors and lavish visual characters and effects, Ken described the project as: back-to-basic stuff - no text, no actors, just puppets1.

Each segment was devised and performed by experienced individual Handspan members: Katy Bowman, Lizz Talbot, Avril McQueen and Michele Spooner for performance in a similar format to Women Alone (1989). Its six acts aimed to be brief visual metaphors that were evocative in style, polished in technique and conceptually symbolic rather than narrative. Performers assisted in each others' segments and together, the acts were segued into a full-length performance through black theatre lighting designed by Philip Lethlean.2

METAFOUR was presented for a showcase season at the Melbourne Fringe Festival in 1993 sub-titled: Image - Body - Object - an evocative showcase of visual eclecticism. Leonard Radic, Melbourne theatre critic claimed this was:

Another way of saying it follows no particular style or mode. While one work may use light or music to bold effect, for example, another uses the techniques of black light theatre or conventional puppetry. What the works have in common, however, is not merely a technical adventurousness, but an ability to create images which are powerful and enduring.

The Age, Melbourne, September, 1993


METAFOUR presented different puppetry and visual performance styles explored by individual artists in a program of independent conceptual ideas:

Works

Devised by Katy Bowman, Works was in three parts: Cycle, Fluid Forms and Light Dance thematically suggesting creation, death and re-creation. The pieces continued Katy's fascination with materials and body movement in performance, and added the interplay of light to the movement tableaux that developed.

The segments opened the show and interspersed the subsequent acts in the production.

The highlight is indubitably Katy Bowman's three ultra-short exercises in material manipulation, all are visually stunning and see Bowman playing variously with brown paper, a white lycra hoop and mirrors: exquisite.

Fiona Scott-Norman: The Bulletin, September, 1993

Katy's shapes and figures inflate, collapse and even turn inside out to reveal the process of mutability

Helen Thomson: The Australian, 3 September, 1993

Cycle

Photographs: © Ponch Hawkes 1993
Fluid Forms
Light Dance

(Click photos to enlarge)

Wired
Photograph: © Ponch Hawkes 1993

Wired was devised by Lizz Talbot inspired by ancient history and contemporary mythological literature, particularly that of South American writer, Isabel Allende. Lizz devised the piece, and built its images, centrally an aluminium, wire and wood construction of a human female.

I was interested in looking at a place where women were freed from original sin, there is recurring imagery of flight and snakes. I approached the script in a very formal, narrative way, but the story is told with symbols rather than words.

Lizz Talbot: Interview: Fiona Scott-Norman: The Melbourne Times, 25 August, 1993

A skeletal figure made from wood and wire dances mid-air, apparently of its own accord. It symbolises flight and in the end takes wing and soars off into the ether. ... A snake-like figure emerges from the mouth of its wired human. We are in the world of mythology here, and audiences will interpret the imagery variously according to their own lights.

Leonard Radic: The Age, Melbourne, September, 1993
The Insider
Photograph: © Ponch Hawkes 1993

This vignette, devised by Avril McQueen aimed to illustrate the youthfulness of spirit inside an aging body. Her program notes read simply:

The Spark Inside, The Kick Inside, The Heart Inside. I am 78 and I still feel 18 inside. Decayed, deformed, decrepit. Too soon to Disregard. Too soon to Discard


Avril used stock puppets from the Handspan collection to represent an old woman and a younger spirit whose reactions to small objects were brief glimpses of mental strength inside physical frailty.

The Insider reveals how suggestive a puppet of just a head and a length of cloth can be. An engaging baby puppet becomes an aged woman whose inner youthfulness is represented by a smaller, joyful wooden puppet which defies the passing of time.

Helen Thomson: The Australian, 3 September, 1993

The child is a haunting figure who, like the child in Cho Cho San is calculated to impinge itself on the audience's consciousness.

Leonard Radic: The Age, Melbourne, September, 1993
Rites of Passage
Photograph: © Ponch Hawkes 1993


(Click photos to enlarge)

The most technically and conceptually complex of the acts, Rites of Passage was devised by Michele Spooner in response to her program note questions:

When is permission given? When is permission withheld? and Who are our guides?.


The piece continued her exploration of the relationship between object and manipulator, that built on her previous Vignettes:Smalls, Moments and The Immaculate Contraption (in Women Alone). In the theme of this work, Michele looked at the influence of guiding hands.

For a long time I always loved finding a mentor and absorbing and taking what I could from them. ... Over the years I've come to see art as a religion; it's something that people believe in.


Rites of Passage was performed by a masked and robed 'priestess' who operated a puppet and a candle, in ceremonial and ritual moments that revealed their power-play. 'It is not until the candle goes out that she (the puppet) can really see', explained Michele in a pre-season interview3.

Employing both puppets and operators as characters on stage, Rites of Passage dramatises the process of human learning by using the puppet as pupil. This involves a clever demonstration of the way in which puppetry make possible a double vision. We see the operator at work, but she alternately becomes visible and invisible as our focus shifts from product to process in the story.

Helen Thomson: The Australian, 3 September, 1993


METAFOUR was well-received by Melbourne critics:

The most impressive show so far (in the Fringe) comes from Handspan. The emphasis is on imagination and simplicity and despite the absence of sumptious visuals, which have become Handspan's trademark, this is the freshest and most exciting work it has done for some time.

Fiona Scott-Norman: The Bulletin, September, 1993

This represents a return to a purer form of puppetry for Handspan, a wordless performance where the soundscapes and lighting are vitally important. The range of ideas and techniques is most impressive, the effect charming as it is intriguing.

Helen Thomson: The Australian, 3 September, 1993

The colour, shapes and textures on display give a sense of artwork come to life and music is imaginatively used to alter the mood of the pieces, working highly effectively.2

Simon Goretski: Beat Magazine, Melbourne, 8 September, 1993


The production was awarded the 3LO Performing Arts Best Group Award by the Melbourne radio station for its Fringe Festival season.

METAFOUR re-engaged Handspan's members and its performing ensemble after their drift from the company during David's Baird's artistic leadership (1991 - 1992). By programming the work as the first in his new role, Ken Evans aimed to re-emphasise and consolidate the company's visual performance skills and techniques, and at the same time, to reinforce Handspan's early collaborative practice of creating work in which:

Every member of an ensemble should feel personally responsible for the success of the work and prepared to take action to ensure it.

Michael Wansbrough: The dynamics of group acting, Herald Sun, Melbourne, 31 August, 19934

  1. Ken Evans: Interview, Fiona Scott-Norman, The Melbourne Times, 25 August, 1993
  2. No Music/Sound credits for the performance were published in programs.
  3. Michele Spooner: Interview: Fiona Scott-Norman: The Melbourne Times, 25 August, 1993
  4. Michael Wansbrough was a longterm colleague of Handspan Theatre, his article is attached to conceptual notes for METAFOUR now in the Performing Arts Collection, Melbourne.



Scroll back to Click Tab: The People & The Performances


Creative team/Performers
Works Katy Bowman
Music for Light Dance Michael Nyman
Wired Lizz Talbot
The Insider Avril McQueen
Rites of Passage Michele Spooner
Lighting designer Philip Lethlean
Performers
Cycle Lizz Talbot & Avril McQueen
Fluid Forms Katy Bowman
Light Dance Avril McQueen
Wired Lizz Talbot
The Insider Avril McQueen
Rites of Passage Michele Spooner
Production team
Stage manager Mikkel Mynster
Puppet maker Colleen Crapper with Katy Bowman, Lizz Talbot, Avril McQueen & Michele Spooner
Graphic designer Fiona Sweet
Poster image Paul Dickenson
Production assistance Winston Appleyard, Carmelina Di Guglielmo, Monray, Daryl Pellizzer, Heather Monk, Peter J.Wilson, Vivia Hickman, Robert Stephens, John Rogers, Michael Buckley, Toni Wallace, Jo Briscombe, Jacky Talbot & Maeve Vella
Season
27 August - 12 September U2, Universal Theatre, Fitzroy, Melbourne Fringe Festival


Scroll back to Click Tab: The Production




Vignettes: