SHORE in Narrm ESSAY by Yvette Grant

SHORE in NAARM: Performance,  Yvette Grant

Emily Johnson’s SHORE in NAARM: Performance invites us to journey down the rabbit hole for a few short hours, to engage with a deep sense of place in a moment out of time and remember the spirits, the animals and the ancestors.

We begin on a cool evening just after dusk at Royal Park where the trees are lit like ghosts and we can only just make out human figures spread randomly across the field. The tension is mobilised as the figures enclose us in a circle and move through us to a beautifully symmetrical central tree, to very slowly and deliberately surround it and sway from side to side. They have white heart lights. They begin to sound long singular notes, one then the other, and move in, out and around us and the tree, in circular formations, always very slowly and ritualistically. We begin to feel part of something bigger than ourselves. We are very aware of the place.

Emily invites us under the central tree and we sit as she tells us stories. They are stories of dreams and the place; of hawks and eagles and owls; of not remembering how it starts and of being in two places at once; and of the journey we are about to make to North Melbourne Town Hall, along the no longer existent William River past last and next year’s Christmases stopping only just before the whales. And so we make the journey in silence accompanied only by chimes that echo the place back at us and with quiet interludes of gentle singing and clapping sticks.

We arrive and enter the theatre: a world with reminders of our own but inhabited by very different creatures. Indigenous trees form small forests around the space, a metal band runs the entire perimeter and the floor is covered in mist. The space begins to become inhabited and we soon see that there are two distinct kinds of beings.

The first are very calm, sturdy, unshakeable creatures. They look like us. They are dressed in soft colours, some in greys and metallic colours, others in blues and greens and many of them have a large square attached to the front of their clothing. They move slowly, sometimes very slowly, and evenly. They are used for balance and leaned against. We hear their steady breath and their song but their expression is minimal. They frame the action. They move in formations. They move the trees. They echo the action. And the stories. We have the sense that we know them and they are always there, that they keep to themselves mostly but we can call on them and depend on them when we need them.

There is another kind of creature in the space. There are three of them. They seem mostly like us too but they are very lean and their eyes are wild. They are bright orange and yellow and red. Their movements change from erratic and jerky, to controlled and repetitive, to casual, child-like and free. They cover large distances quickly and interact intimately with each other. They are very expressive and sometimes delightfully happy but their emotions swing dramatically and reach levels of deep desperation. There is an excitedness and sometimes even a violence about them. They work very hard, and sweat and breathe heavily. They speak to each other and sometimes to us. They tell us the story of a whale – over and over and over again.

And we listen. And in the end, we feel that all of us creatures are in this together, and the story closes as it began with a call to gather. And we feel we have gathered. And we feel we have been somewhere. And we feel we have witnessed incredible times and met important creatures. And somehow, more than before, as we leave we feel we carry with us these times, these creatures and a memory of this place.