Go To Blazes: Ulysses 2.2. Episode 4
Justine Cooper and Jonathan Mitchell in Go To Blazes by David Bolger. Image Set Murray.
You can talk all you like about the aspirations fuelling Go To Blazes by David Bolger. Episode 4 of Ulysses 2.2, a collaborative endeavour celebrating the centenary of James Joyce's seminal novel via eighteen artistic responses spread over the year. But here are the hard facts. It runs, twice daily, at inconvenient times. At 42 Fairview Strand, which is a less than ideal location when it comes to access and parking. The best parking being directly across the road, where you had better bring coins. Otherwise give yourself a frustrating twenty minutes trying to download an app that feels like applying for a mortgage. All this for a production that lasts thirty minutes. Then there's the hardest fact of all: none of the above justifies you not going to see this astonishing production.
Jonathan Mitchell in Go To Blazes by David Bolger. Image Set Murray.
Haven't read Ulysses? That's okay too. There's more to be enjoyed if you are familiar, but there's an abundance of riches even if you're not. Beginning with Justine Cooper, whose reputation is built on being simply, consistently, magnificent. Who, even when she seems to shy away from the attention, the light just wants to follow her. Welcoming you like a doddery librarian, Cooper escorts you into a large modern room with some old world trappings. Ulysses lies opened on a desk, from which Cooper reads with exaggerated daintiness. Making a dubious case for smells as sonic reverberations which have an equivalent in musical notes. Referencing smells inspired by the passages she reads, Cooper invites you to sample them from jars, vials, and testers as Là ci darem la mano from Mozart's Don Giovanni sees her curve and extend like a ballerina. It's fascinating, daft, pretentiously serious and seriously pretentious. A lot like Ulysses. Playing around with what we perceive and with what's real. Did that black and white picture of a nymph move just now?
Rosie Stebbing in Go To Blazes by David Bolger. Image Set Murray.
Personal immediacy shifts to digital distance as VR headsets are deployed. Looking through a digital window, the world outside is both then and there yet here and now. Joycean characters next to their modern equivalents on the street outside sees reality become this other thing. Something it's not so easy to be sure about; the final image pushing at the boundaries between real and fictional. Boundaries tested further in a dance sequence beginning with a haunting solo by Rosie Stebbing, infused with elements of Capoeira. A dance of the seven sails more than veils, the energy proves just as intense. Heightened by a shift in the relationship between spectator to dancer. The closer proximity of the body, the illusory sense of intimacy and immediacy, the loss of a shared communal awareness heightening the individual response and making personal voyeurs of us all.
Jonathan Mitchell and Justine Cooper in Go To Blazes by David Bolger. Image Set Murray.
Bringing it all home, an exquisite duet, shifting later into a trio, proves simply breathtaking. Jonathan Mitchell and Cooper exorcise an erotic charge courtesy of a white tablecloth whose reality is ever changing: a towel, a blanket, a child, the tug and pull of passion. Short, sweet, simple perfections, movements marry exquisite tension with an essential flow. To see it as informing the younger and older Molly Bloom and her relationship with Blazes Boylan, or Leopold, in Ulysses's Calypso section is totally valid. But that feels like prescribing meaning to poetry. Mitchell, Stebbing and Cooper's trio is indeed all that, but it's so much more. Here, closer to the swirl of dance and dancer, you get caught up, can almost believe you're a part of it, torn by the heart-aching beauty of its exquisite execution. Highlighting the limits of VR. Great as it is to pretend at being in the room, watching all three dancers you want to be in the same room. Even as you don’t want to trade the intimacy. By the time headsets are collected, you don't walk away from the experience so much as float.
Justine Cooper, Jonathan Mitchell and Rosie Stebbing in Go To Blazes by David Bolger. Image Set Murray.
Challenging the constructions of our own realities, the digital offers fresh perspectives hitherto unavailable. Too often it's been a gimmick. In Go To Blazes VR achieves a richer purpose through exploring reality as a singularity, a duality, or one of infinite dimensions. But to focus on the digital is to miss the humans who make Go To Blazes such an extraordinary experience. Cooper, Mitchell, Stebbing, who along with Bolger, choreograph sublime sequences. An army of tech and creatives placing them before your eyes. All immeasurably enriched by an astonishingly brilliant score by Denis Clohessy. And, of course, we can't forget Joyce. Challenging reality and image, the relationship of spectator to performance, the nature of art, Go To Blazes honours its inspiration by searching for new possibilities. Creating a work of staggering beauty. Not to be missed.
Go To Blazes by David Bolger, Episode Four of Ulysses 2.2, presented by ANU, Landmark Productions, & MOLI together with Coiscéim Dance Theatre, runs at Coiscéim Studio, 42 Fairview Strand, until November 20.