Donna Sue Robson is a freelance writer and essayist specialising in the arts, Latin dance; & natural & alternative therapies for people and pets. Check out her own energy-healing consultancy and boutique natural products at www.jamienatural.com
'Ode to Man' puts the onus on women to create real change
Ode to Man is an intriguing piece of performance-art poetry, projected by compelling digital-art. It is a comedic ode that stimulates visual and auditory senses, making strong demands on the audience to reference and cross-reference, process- and re-process external messages, internally. Pic by: Sarah Walker and Lindsay Cox
Although Ode to Man is described as ' a lamentation on the death of heroic masculinity', it is a clear and empowered visual exposé of one woman's personal relationship experiences, as she muses and pries through a window of feminist history, male archetypes and sexual propaganda. Emma Mary Hall's content-focus is the archetypes of 'contemporary man' as she traces ever-primal male behaviours through culture and history, but it is her reflective-content of Ode to Man that is the most interesting: what about women?
Within a skilful academic yet comedic, visual ode, Emma evokes truths which although essentially speak to a female audience, combine to create an insightful theatrical thesis on heterosexual relationships and our romantic expectations. Hall trashes myths first believed by older women of Generation X (who may be childless or career-impaired) that 'women can have it all'. Younger Generation X-women, still impacted by feminist simplicity, have cottoned on to the mythical flaw: hence Ode to Man works to broaden the current gender-equality debate to re- focus the issue back to building quality relationships and assessing women's real-life scenarios and choices. Ode to Man is a work inspired by Sophocles and Bettina Arndt.
The cream that holds the sponge together is indeed the poignant question that Emma raises for women, to women, about ourselves. A quick head-count reveals that the audience was 90% female. Consider her most repeated lament: 'Why do we pay so much attention to men?' She nails a female quality to which most heterosexual women can relate: obsession. Emma skilfully highlights that women may still be defining themselves by male opinion and perspective.
Emma Mary Hall opens the show as a dramatic mime-actress. The introduction intrigues through silent emotion that is slow, deliberate and even obscure in its narrative direction. I would have loved to see more of this technique- just because it was so good. However, reserving it solely as a content-scaffold, the show then ventures into sharp and twisted theatrical variety, and all manner of surprising techniques to power dramatic internal reflection.
There is machine-gun rapid-fire at a concluding feminist-inspired rant-rave. The show may have been stronger if this was pulled back a bit, but stylistically, it adds to the theme of feminine confusion, obsession and emotionalism and successfully delivers a tight summary of feminist critique and pitches the need for personal appraisal of women's collective position and our own life choices.
Ode to Man is not theatrical story-telling that damns men: rather, it questions essential myths about manhood and re-asserts primal truths that may just need to be faced. It is philosophical academia, as Emma, as well as being a drama-arts graduate from Victorian College of the Arts, has an Honours degree in Political Science from the Australian National University in Canberra. She uses theatre, live art and film to appeal to modern audiences who expect fast, high-brow multi-media content. Hall has written a carefully constructed collaborative show, cased as a digital journey that sets an artistic yardstick in contemporary theatre. She shows the impact of a solo voice: within a digitalised democracy, it can and will be heard.
'... Naming is a kind of magic: it is an act that both binds and liberates… The first act of freedom is to name the oppression… But we must be able to name our own experiences.' Taken from Naming the Damage by Alison Croggon, Overland, on www.emmamaryhall.com
Ode to Man is an inspired show in that it not only draws upon profound feminist doctrine from the 50s to the present day, but also on literary, medical, scientific and philosophical schools of thought across the ages. Through her poetic thesis, Emma Mary Hall reinforces a vital emotional concern from which there is no escape: we all want good, healthy relationships. What are we doing?
In the beginning, Emma Mary Hall has a strong idea about men. She has researched and observed men, thought about them, felt the love, the pain and lived through the highs, lows and grey areas of relationship experiences. The show exhibits her respect for academia and methodological research training but creates comedic reflection and strong character resonance.
'We are all damaged. We live amid violence that we don't and can't acknowledge, amid suffering we don't and can't acknowledge… And so the damage doubles and doubles, inside us and outside us.' Taken from Naming the Damage by Alison Croggon, quoted as an 'inspiration blog' on Emma Mary Hall's website.
As well as delivering stylish and impeccable techno-art direction, Emma Mary Hall is a talented essayist and researcher. She has strong messages to deliver to both men and women and raises questions as to how we can best create happy and sustainable relationships. Pic by: Sarah Walker and Lindsay Cox
Many of the words that I would normally use to critique theatre and comedy are not apt for Emma's Ode to Man, as its success rests on new rules of audience engagement and yardsticks reached. This is not just because Hall employs a myriad of skill-sets and genres, but because her show is a perfectly crafted essay which, when assessed on its own terms can rest on its message alone. Technical modalities have been used to create the perfect dish- why pull it apart to discuss the ingredients? Ode to Man is a credit to all contributing artists who, even though are behind the scenes, have united impressive pedigrees to create intriguing political-art. Ode to Man leaves nothing to chance: the production is geometrically aligned: script, graphic art, projection-art, costume, editorial-graphics, physical theatre and of course, sound and animation are poetic.
Fascinating too, is the show's stage design and venue choice. Aeso Studio is a small 'art-space' that is camouflaged as a Brunswick Street shopfront, and has a rear entry reminiscent of Faraday Street's La Mama. Celebratory lighting and dreamscape architecture throw out the welcome mat to create yet another Melbourne sideway-laneway art space, famed in Berlin and New York. As the audience is taken 'backwards' toward the front-room theatre, we enter what can best be described as a photographer's studio: an all-white canvas ready to bounce light, sound and digital projection imagery from all angles, walls and backdrops. Just like squash players, we witness and scramble for wide-angles, drop-shots and marvel at slick, double-angled wall-plays. Whatever way you look at it: Hall's set-play is a winner and she knows how to work an audience. Ode to Man may seem static from your seat, but you are more than a witness: Ode to Man is a networked, digital and dynamic visual interactive story.
'I wonder often about the future of political theatre in a digitalised democracy', Emma Mary Hall.
Ode to Man, presented in both Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth, has been created by the same team that brought the award-winning We May Have to Choose: director Prue Clark, video-art by Lindsay Cox, sound design by Chris Wenn and mentored by Bagryana Popov. Watch out for their upcoming production of Future Turf, which is described as 'a cross-disciplinary performance work investigating architecture, 'placelessness' and property ownership'.