Proximity Festival not close enough

Rachel Arianne Ogle in Where You End & I Begin. Picture: Fionn Mulholland

Proximity Festival
Curated by James Berlyn and Sarah Rowbottam
Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts


I've never run the Trans-Sahara Marathon or tried the Swim Around Tassie but I did attempt all three programs at the Proximity Festival at PICA in one night - and that really was a feat of human endurance.

A dozen solo acts, each performing to an audience of one, is an intriguing concept. It's immaculately organised by curators James Berlyn and Sarah Rowbottam, stage manager Mary Wolfla and their team of wranglers who move us from act to act.

It goes without saying that you're in for a range of encounters and you're going to be captivated and challenged by some acts more than others.

But if, as I was, you're going to be immersed in something for more than four hours, there needs to be an overarching sensation that drives you deeper and deeper into the experience. In that, I'm afraid, Proximity fell well short.

The problem wasn't that some acts were bad, or banal, or mundane. It was more that many of them didn't deliver a performance as such at all.

Sarah Elson's Incendia Lascivio, for example, was essentially a workshop on working with precious metal; Janet Pettigrew's Prior Arrangement a tutorial on the undertaker's craft; and Loren Kronemeyer's Remains Management Services a straightforward instruction on how to donate your brain to science.

All well and good but hardly transports of imaginative and sensory stimulation.

Others were, though. The night's highlight was Where You End & I Begin, an interactive pas de deux by Rachel Arianne Ogle inside a perspex cube that reflected dancer and audience dimly into infinity. Ogle was a beautiful spider in a mesmerising web.

Also effective were Emma Craig's String Duet, a battle for control of a marionette that played out like a game of chess, and Daniel Nevin's The Gallery of Impermanent Things, where your image became an ephemeral phantom that faded to nothing in front of you.

It was also fun to Hang with the writer and director Ian Sinclair, though I'm not sure eating Kingston biscuits and chatting about Breaking Bad really qualifies as performance art.

Much less fun was my abject failure to assassinate Moya Thomas in Mark, and my last encounter, exhausted, blindfolded and alone in the PICA tower with Humphrey Bower's Minotaur in Asterion was, frankly, just creepy.

Proximity is a fine idea and a great opportunity for some wonderful experiences. I'm sure there'll be more and I expect they'll be more compelling. But I doubt I'll try to do it all in one hit again.

Proximity Festival runs until November 2.