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Photo by Jamie Williams

As the musical lineup for the next Sydney Festival is announced today, here’s a chance to take a brief step back to one of the wilder, and most entertaining shows at Sydney’s summer arts fest, with Jenny Hval.

This 2016 show had dance, music, hazmat suits, tunes and the smearing of body paint. Arts festival bingo! Could something top this in 2019?



The Famous Spiegeltent, January 19

The technical term for this show can only be batshit crazy.

Funny-as, with about as much relationship to a standard gig as Donald Trump (or Sarah Palin) has to reality, and perfectly judged at just under an hour long, it nonetheless was loopy and bizarre and full of “what the hell was that?” moments that promised no answers and duly delivered none.

It began with Jenny Hval and two accomplices dressed in disposable “hazmat” suits under which they wore verging-on-outrageous and yet almost-completely-believable wigs.

She sat on a large inflated ball, talk-singing her way through the first of what might be free association diary entries or stream of consciousness Saturday lifestyle columns for the addled. The DJ/sound maker was at a table of equipment, barely looking up, switching from organic to distorted sounds, from danceable moments to contorted beats. Her dancer/gymnast was to one side, smearing red paint over her belly and groin and then gazing at us with aggressive passivity before launching into vigorous calisthenics.

Flesh was discussed, verbally prodded and set aside – if you have issues with certain blunt terms for particular body parts, this show may not be for you – while technology was deployed but in malleable, earthy packages.

There were lessons in here but it was up to us to make them.

Death was assayed, but almost in passing rather than as a matter of drama. Occasionally Hval would sing with a loose manner that only comes from having good technique, but then she’d nail a beautiful melody. At one point the gymnast/dancer broke down crying, at another she repeatedly bounced into Hval mid-song; later she wrapped Hval wrapped in toilet paper mid-song before lying down to sleep.

This was performance art and cabaret, free jazz and esoterica: equal parts Laurie Anderson and Meow Meow, Bowie in his Lindsay Kemp years and Marina Abramovic.

It was bare skin but de-sexualised, filled with beats but arrhythmic, musical but skirting melody. And did I mention batshit crazy?

And yet no one left until 15 minutes in and even then I counted no more than half a dozen departures. Even Hval was taken aback by this, noting near the end that “you are still here” with what seemed genuinely pleased surprise.

But why would we leave when we were having this much nutty fun?

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