‘A Rawcus production doesn’t tell a story or represent an experience, but looks to be that experience, to embody it.’
Those were the words printed on the program of Song for a Weary Throat, a stunning piece of Australian physical theatre that just wrapped up its short season at the Melbourne International Arts Festival.
Rawcus, an ensemble of performers with and without disability, collaborated with the Invenio singers for this production, combining music and theatre to delve into powerful themes of trauma, failure and heartbreak.
Through choreographed movement, conceptual composition and fluid improvisation, the ensemble embodied the journey through loss and the glimpse of hope that follows.
I had no idea what to expect before attending the premiere of Song for a Weary Throat, and I was unsure if it was something that I would enjoy. I had attended plays, musicals and dance performances before, but never a hybrid physical theatre performance with no dialogue and a chorus of vocalists as the soundtrack.
But I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. I was intrigued by the well choreographed ensemble, the ethereal soundscape and the structure of the piece, which wasn’t essentially in a narrative format but rather a variety of expressive movements.
The performance broke down the conventional ideas of dance as a proclamation of happiness, and highlighted how one can channel other emotions into movement. It represented how humans deal with their feelings about grief and resilience, while presenting the idea that dance is not just an individual and professional pursuit, but a communal activity.
The performance began with a powerful repetition of flashing bright lights and loud noise, blinding the audience as the actors transitioned into different tableaus. Each time the ensemble moved into a new position, I jumped at the roar of sound that blasted throughout the theatre.
Set in an abandoned dance hall, chairs lined the back of the stage while two ramps sat on each side. It was enjoyable seeing how these props were utilised throughout the entire performance, as the ramp was initially set up as a chalkboard, and later became a spot for the actors to hide under.
As well as dancing in pairs, groups and solo, the ensemble rolled down the ramps, jumped off them and struggled to climb up. The characters experience so many ups and downs in their grief cycle that you end up rooting for them.
I embraced when they ran around the stage and leapt off the ramp, I felt their pain when they continuously failed to reach the top of the ramp, and I celebrated when they pranced around the stage joyously.
Dance and movement were used as a strong expression of their emotion, which was heightened in the repetition and synchronisation of their physicality. It was impressive seeing the sharp choreography of the ensemble, where one actor would perform an action and the rest would slowly join in the rhythm almost perfectly.
While it was mainly a wordless performance, the actors did have some lines of dialogue throughout the production, mainly revolving around dance.
“Dance with me,” one actor shouted to everyone on stage. This was then echoed later in the piece when another actor said she felt like dancing and wanted others to join. The cycle of grief and the want for empathy and understanding essentially happened to each character, whether it was through dialogue or movement, and was extremely effective in tying these people together.
The Invenio singers established a celestial soundscape by the side of the stage, where harmonies built up to climaxes that echoed the imagery on stage. In a way, they broke the fourth wall when the actors interacted with them and became involved in the dances and movement of props across the stage.
Song for a Weary Throat was exciting, engaging and innovative, and it was hard to keep your focus on one part of the stage when there were so many points of interest.
In her director’s note, Kate Sulan references Pema Chödrön, saying, “The truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. They come together and they fall apart again. It’s just like that.”
Rawcus and the Invenio singers perfectly encapsulate this idea in Song for a Weary Throat, showcasing their talents through the combination of physicality and vocals to create a powerful performance of emotions.