Dancers, especially those with a background in ballet, are traditionally light on their feet. They’re easily spotted: waiting at a bus stop in first position, feet right-angled on the pavement.
Not so for Lisa O’Neill. She stomps -“ and has done for the last ten years as a member of the Brisbane-based Suzuki company Frank. Suzuki is a discipline of theatre/dance which involves rituals of shouting and stomping, founded by Tadeshi Suzuki in 1966. The Frank company was part of a boom period of Japanese theatre that hit Brisbane in the early nineties (a wave which saw Brecht’s Gallileo performed in Butoh).
I think the Suzuki method really fine-tunes you as a performer -¦ that’s what’s really helped my contemporary dance work, and given me an edge as a performer, said O’Neill, by phone from Brisbane. I don’t train as a dancer any more yet I still perform dance pieces and quite technical ones.
Pianissimo, O’Neill’s latest endeavour, is a theatrical cabaret performed with Brisbane dyke icon Christine Johnston, who last visited the Opera House in her one-woman show Decent Spinster. Johnston startled audiences with a character who sang geometric shapes and looked like the love-child of Maria Callas and Elvira.
This time round Johnston plays a cabaret singer with O’Neill as her accompanist (and perhaps more).
Basically the show reflects back on this woman’s life, this songstress, and that’s where my character comes into play, O’Neill said. My character is kind of like a mirror in which she views her life -¦ So I take on the role of the child, lover, singer, pet, everything.
It’s androgynous, she said. Everyone reads the piece very differently, but for us it’s neutral. Oh, I mean obviously people read it very strongly in many ways, and it will keep everyone happy, put it that way.
O’Neill said the piece was kind of song-and-dance but wouldn’t ruin the device on which it hangs together. If Decent Spinster is any indication however, Pianissimo should provide a theatrical mid-point between proscenium STC theatre and avant-garde Performance Space excursions. (Decent Spinster was, above all else, very funny.)
Pianissimo will be a big change from O’Neill’s last challenge: a tour of Turkey with Frank, performing in a Japanese/English language production of Macbeth.
One thing I would not be comfortable with is a naturalistic play, O’Neill said. Vocally, physically, I would feel very uncomfortable!