When I was a young teenager, I left school. Well, ran away from it, actually. A short time later, I scored big by getting a job working as the office boy for Radio Station 3UZ. To me, it was a dream job. I was music-mad, a young mod, and here I was in the engine room of the top rating music station in Melbourne. I honestly felt I’d died and gone to heaven.
One of the perks of this job, apart from the deejays giving you free albums in exchange for getting their lunch or dinner, or picking up their dry cleaning, etc., were free tickets to most of the overseas music acts that hit Melbourne.
It enabled me to witness all sorts of amazing legends I could never have normally afforded to have seen, ie., The Who (when they still smashed their instruments), The Small Faces, Jerry Lee Lewis, Paul Jones, The Walker Brothers, Roy Orbison, Paul & Barry Ryan, P.J. Proby, The Kinks, The Monkees, Dino, Beaky, Dee Dee, Dozy and whatever the fuck their names were, etc., etc., etc. Memories I’ll cherish forevermore.
But it also gave me an opportunity even more valuable. I sometimes got a ticket to things I’d have never paid to see in a million years as a young teenage rock’n’roller. For instance, an evening of Flamingo dancing, internationally renowned classical pianists, respected opera singers, middle-of-the-road cabaret performers from my mother’s era, etc. And what it did was open my mind to all kinds of music and performance, some of which took all my concentration to stay with, but stay I did until I finally “got” the magic of it. It is because of that golden opportunity my job granted me, that my music tastes today are so eclectic. I even appreciate some performers who may be dismissed as “jokes” because they were far from “cool” – but I got to witness up-close the artistry of what they did.
Last Friday night, the man who thought he’d seen everything, got his mind opened a little more. I was invited to see “Dragon Ladies Don’t Weep” performed by Margaret Leng Tan, with music by Erik Griswold, in a co-production by Chamber Made and Culturelink Singapore. It was presented at the beautiful Arts Centre, Melbourne.
It may be the weirdest evening I’ve yet spent in a theatre. But, as I’ve come to know, weird doesn’t mean bad. It just means original. And original solicits your full attention and spiritual commitment lest you be left behind.
The first half consisted of “Double Phase” by Makino Takashi and Lawrence English. This was a visual chronology that considers the complexities of the natural world and how it continues to be reduced and diminished by contemporary society. The film collides image after image into “a cascade of almost-cosmic complexity.” I must confess that I feared it may bring on an acid-flashback and that I’d start channeling Jim Morrison and endanger those around me indulging in the rituals of polite society. At the interval, I needed a very big drink to stabilize me for the second act, and the main performance by Margaret Leng Tan. One must not peak too soon at these events.
The Act 2 production design by Video artist Nick Roux & Lighting designer Andy Lim of|ARTFACTORY was minimalist, striking and very beautiful. Like a modernist painting with one moving character, Margaret Leng Tan who moved to the piano and played it as an extension of herself and her surroundings. Margaret, who has lived with obsessive disorder all her life, began the Act with a piano piece entitled “Obsessive Precision” and so it was. She then progressed to “The Moon Is Bright” (a Cantonese nursery rhyme), and then to my personal favourite, “The Counting Thing” which she ended by turning the grand piano around and around, counting each turn, until she had reached the number of years she has lived.
There were some aspects of the show that resembled Yoko Ono on steroids, but all in all, the audience sat entranced by the surreal, the beautiful, the delicate, the obsessive and simplicity of a world gone mad.
And when you think about it, isn’t that the magic of theatre? To push us to think differently about things that we take for granted and don’t question. Aren’t the things we never notice, the most dangerous of all?
For those who love something different instead of the same ol’ same ol, this is your “Citizen Kane.”
The Text for “Dragon Ladies Don’t Weep” is drawn from Margaret Leng Tan’s writings, observations and reflections.
Directed by Tamara Saulwick. Video Artist, Nick Roux. Dramaturg, Kok Heng Leun. Costume Design, Yuan Zhiying. Co-Executive Producers, Kylie McRae (Chamber Made) & Goh Ching Lee (CultureLink Singapore). Administration, Joselyn Ching (CultureLink Singapore, Emilie Collyer & Dan Sheehan (Chamber Made).
“Dragon Ladies Don’t Weep” is part of the SUBSONIC program curated for Asia TOPA by the SUBSTATION.
It is at the Playhouse, Arts Centre, Melbourne.
Review by Frank Howson 29th. February 2020.