GRACE Yew introduces you to an exciting new performance company, Hydra Poesis, whose latest show is bringing new ideas, images and actions to the forefront of stage performance.
With inscrutable motivations and countless intricacies, the performing arts can be mystifying for many viewers. Even Sam Fox, industry veteran and recent recipient of the inaugural Sidney Myer Creative Fellowship, admits dance is a challenging medium.
“Dance is kind of like music in that it’s a highly abstract form, so I was struggling with that a little bit,” he says.
“But I enjoy it. I was always interested in representation and ideas.”
A Perth native, Fox trained as a contemporary dancer at the West Australia Academy of Performing Arts before co-founding performance group Tall Concrete Collective.
A self-confessed practitioner of theatre and writing, Fox’s ongoing passion for the arts later came to full fruition in the form of Hydra Poesis – an independent, Perth-based company in which Fox is the founder-director.
Fox describes the company’s philosophy as a “critical, performance-based exploration of the world.”
“We do that through a range of media,” he says, “so it’s also about hybridity – how to undercut the abstract and work through it.”
Hydra Poesis’ latest work, Personal Political Physical Challenge, has won critical acclaim with its thematic comprehensiveness. The performance delves into the lives of a suburban couple attempting to overcome a relationship crisis through a game of ‘truth, dare, or physical challenge’.
The physical tasks, which are performed in the couple’s garage and include a “political placard striptease”, quickly spiral into a dangerous political conundrum.
“Instead of trying to rekindle their sex life or going to a counsellor,” explains Fox, “they actually try and find what they believe in: their personal politics, what they would fight for.”
“It’s a revelation in their own garage. They dare each other to do things, and ultimately find out more about each other and what they believe in.”
Fox says the performance – which was inspired by an observation of suburban politics – seeks to debunk the Australian dream.
“There’s this idea that once you’ve got a house and relationship, you’ve made it,” he elaborates.
“The performance is playfully suggesting that relationships aren’t that meaningful. Having a house and relationship doesn’t mean you have a value system.
“I don’t believe in an Australia where suburbia doesn’t have politics and where people don’t face real challenges on a daily basis.”
Hydra Poesis has gained a reputation for challenging, engaging work – and they promise to deliver this again. Personal Political Physical Challenge seeks to integrate different political ideologies and “ethical double-binds” into the performance.
“In the show the characters take on many hypothetical challenges, like…being a woman, or liking to eat meat,” he says.
“Then that gets tied to the live exploits of human beings in Australia, like the deportation of refugees.We tie these difficult questions to the characters and therefore the audience.”
Fox adds the performance explores the concept that “relationships are potentially meaningless if you don’t share a belief system with the other person.”
“I’ve noticed in relationships, when the pressure’s on, people find out about each other,” muses Fox.
“You might be with someone for 10 years and then you have a baby, or a crisis, or someone dies, or you get into a stressful situation, then a lot of the hard questions come up. You’re not necessarily on the same page any more.”
Given the emphasis on suburban politics, the show’s run in Melbourne may have a different impact than it did on Perth.
“Perth is mostly suburbs,” admits Fox. “There’s not as much inner-city living, even though Perth is changing.”
“In Melbourne, people have a stronger connection to the city than the suburbs, so it’ll be interesting to see the difference,” he says.
Fox maintains, however, that Melburnians are a part of something greater than themselves, and that local politics are inescapable for all.
“The Australian dream applies across Australia. Even if you don’t identify with suburban reality, politically speaking, we’re all part of the same body politics”.
“You can think of yourself as being in a subculture or an alternative way of life, but ultimately, we’re all part of the same, greater political system.
“Australia looks after its own people, and we see how it reacts to the rest of the world: Aboriginal people, or women, or refugees, even how we treat young people and children – we’re all stuck with each other,” he says.
“You’re not stuck in traffic – you are the traffic.””
Fox’s belief in the individual’s potential for connection and contribution manifests itself in his opinions on independent performance groups.
“Young artists and smaller organisations have a lot to offer (the arts scene),” he says.
“The big companies are becoming less relevant. It’s the smaller companies that do the most interesting work.”
“I would encourage people to form their own groups and collectives, and make work. Do it low-budget and embrace its limitations, even though it’s a struggle and we all want to make a living.”
“Getting support is hard to achieve and can be distracting, so just go ahead with your art.”
Personal Political Physical Challenge will be playing at the Malthouse Theatre in Melbourne from August 11 to August 25. Tickets can be purchased here.