Boneseed | Auckland Fringe 2015

The Fringe blurb describing Minus theatre’s production of Boneseed doesn’t really do it justice.

In fact, it’s as vague as you could possibly get for a fringe show, claiming that the company uses “a unique form that includes the different languages of the group’s members as well as dance, theatre, film & music [and is] immediate, different, challenging and real.” The suggestion is that the work aspires to be all of the above, and is therefore quite likely to be a bit of muddy mess.

And for some, the surrealist style of the production with no linear narrative, almost complete absence of plot and various snippets of abstract dialogue would confirm that suggestion. But Boneseed is not about conventional theatre, it is clearly about a process of performance and, equally, the performance of a process.

The performers embrace all the traditional conventions of the theatre but in doing so revert to fundamentals of performance practice: story and its places within the minds of the ephemeral owner of that story (the seed, as such) and the various incarnations that take place across others who share that story into the wider culture.

Dressed in various fluid black outfits, the six performers offer various glimpses into different vignettes: personal narratives and yet simultaneously collective experiences that are shared through repetition, observation and transference. Physical movement, body percussion and occasional snippets of song trace patterns on the floor that are embellished through the use of different colours of chalk – a visual sculpting of the surface upon which these stories are performed and leave traces that have the potential to speak in and of themselves.

The programme gently reminds its audience that “it’s OK not to understand” which is helpful for some but perhaps not for others. The montage of images, occasionally stylised body tableaus, and stark lighting illuminate quite beautifully a seamless wash of different perspectives. But their coherence and comprehension depend entirely on one’s own expectations or, indeed, lack thereof.

Watching it, some elements struck me as distinctly absurdist: an embryonic form of the knee-plays perhaps; a mish-mash of Wooster group and butoh movements, slow and specific in their direction; a commentary on voyeurism that Meisner might have appreciated.

But equally I wondered why, when everything was so collective and yet individual, languages other than English – Mandarin and Portuguese (?) – were limited to their native speakers. While appearing to take risks it felt that occasionally the work was shy of taking certain aspects to unexpected and unexplored spaces. At other times certain rapports that were immediately established at the beginning (the greetings and connections with the audience) were not resurrected during the show, leaving hints of participation and potential involvement untapped. Nevertheless the work is quite dynamic despite its length (an hour would have been adequate) and, as a warning, any attempt to analyse or tease out conventional euro-centric aesthetics will not yield satisfying results. It is richer (again, for me) in a post-show reflection.

As a fringe show that is still in its development stages, it offers promise and its various premises have potential. Amidst the flurry of other dramas and comedies of this year’s Fringe, stop by and share some time with the makers of the Boneseed and you might be surprised.

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