Saturday, March 8, 2014

seven kilometres north-east

Seven kilometres north-east (Version 1.0) runs at the Seymour Centre from March 8 - March 22 2014. Devised and performed by Kym Vercoe.
It’s hard to know where to begin to write about seven kilometres north-east. There is so much in this piece: travel and history and beauty and coffee and atrocity. It’s an intense experience, the kind of theatre that can leave you a little short of breath. I’m going to be thinking about this piece for a long, long time.

Devised and performed by Kym Vercoe, seven kilometres north-east is the story of her travelling alone in the Balkans and falling in love with the area. One night, on the advice of a travel guide she refers to as “the Bible”, she stays in a health spa seven kilometres north-east of Višegrad, a small town on the river Drina. On her return to Australia, she does some research and realises that Višegrad was the site of horrific ethnic cleansing in the 1990s and that this health spa was Vilina Vlas, a rape camp. On her return to the Balkans a couple of years later, she returns to Višegrad, forced to come to terms with the hideous history underpinning its idyllic surrounding: history which is so awfully, terribly recent. The eleven-arched bridge of Višegrad might have been built in the sixteenth century, but not even twenty years have passed since it was the site of countless murders.

This show is not a history lesson. It is not a travel memoir. Most importantly, Vercoe does not attempt to co-opt this narrative, from a culture admittedly not her own, for herself. Instead, the underpinning question of the piece is, “what am I supposed to do with this information?”. I liked the way that Vercoe, her journals, and the videos she took in the Balkans were the lens through which we viewed this show. At one point, she talks about walking around Višegrad on her second journey, unable to cope with the fact that the people she was passing on the street might have been complicit with or actively involved with the social genocide, and the only way she could cope with it was to look through her camera, to turn it into horror on the small screen. She successfully uses this lens on us as an audience, making the political personal. (The final image of the show is a perfect visual example of this. It is gutwrenching, a potent visual reminder of the way that the horrors of history were performed on the bodies of individuals.)

Parts of this show made me feel physically short of breath. Not because it was gratuitous – it wasn’t, not at all. But the images Vercoe evokes are so, so powerful. Perhaps the most potent is to do with Višegrad’s eleven-arched bridge, a repeatedly echoed visual motif throughout the show. There’s one scene in particular which I think I’m going to remember for a long time: an almost joyous scene set to A-Ha’s Take On Me. The simple act of dancing and the dirt and the bridge… wow.

Seven kilometres north-east is not misery porn, although with this subject matter, it easily could have been. Nor does it set out be a history lesson, although I definitely feel like I learned something (a lot of somethings). It’s intense theatre – if you’re looking for light entertainment, then this is not the show for you. It’s thoughtful and provocative and haunting, and I recommend it highly.  

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