Enza’s Magical Nook: The Show That Makes You Think Beyond Cardboard Boxes
Review for the Chaotic Order’s performance Enza’s Magical Nook by Melinda Smith.
As we wait in the foyer entrance at Footscray Community Arts Centre (FCAC) to be escorted to the basement Enza’s Studio, I am reluctant to use the word interesting. However, right now it seems appropriate because it pushes my mind to question, what makes art interesting here at FCAC?
FCAC is a place for diversity; a safe and supportive environment to try new things, for individuals to express who they are and what makes art important to their world.
There is no doubt that art and disability is high on the agenda, and it demonstrates this with programs like ArtLife.
But what does this truly mean? Is it about inclusion and feeling good about oneself and part of a community. Is it being able to do what they can and work with those “limits”? Or can we be expected to be much more and an artist with a disability, become the mainstream developer, creator and performer?
With the work and ideas stimulated from Jonathan Sinatra, Public Projects Artist, this performance finds its own way of working for the artists. There are a series of 20-minute performances over the duration of the afternoon, and each performance begins on the hour.
I make the decision to attend all five performances because I want to see what happens. There is a structure for each performance and within that framework there is the improvisation of movements, where the performers are encouraged to do their thing in the moment.
The basement foyer is full of cardboard boxes, stacked like walls in an ancient city. There is a beanbag in the corner and a black computer screen (a looped video of a performer who I learn about at the end) on the table, which starts to build the suspense of what could happen next inside the performance space.
The first performance is a face-to-face interaction with the audience, where performers invite some audience members to be blindfolded.
We see the connection and the awkwardness imposed on both sides, as the performers lead the blindfolded people to walk around the space. When we are seated again and face-to-face we see a new shift of movement including improvising small talk, simplifying what it means to speak and be spoken to, and it becomes a powerful message to leave us with.
‘Would you like to dance?’ performance number two, seemed more relaxed than the first, and I was bothered by the question in my head, did I arrived at a dance party or perhaps a dance jam? I couldn’t decide if I should be watching the performers or the audience – it was clearly a fun dance space with 80’s and 90’s music blaring in the background. However, it was good to see some solo moments happening in the background – individuals taking the platform to express their dance skills and developing abilities to teach us some moves.
Performance three highlighted many aspects of what makes a good show. With cardboard boxes stacked and piled in and around the space, I feel the tension of the unknown approaching, and I know I’m about to experience something that will affect me.
There is something striking about the costumes, yellow overalls and the balloon heads made from papier-mâché, painted in different colours with cut out eyes and some mouths left open. My attention is drawn to the sound of boxes moving, feet travelling through the space, heads bobbing up and down, and hands drumming quietly on the moving boxes. I find myself connected and engaged to each performer’s movement – sometimes intense and sometimes a burst of playfulness would appear as small colourful balls flew across the room. This was a good ending for the third performance.
The last two performances of Enza’s Magical Nook were quite different and there seemed to be more effort needed for the performers to know what they were “meant” to be doing, or improvising for in performance four – even though the fourth performance received the biggest audience.
I was disappointed in the video projection, as it becomes a distraction all around. I couldn’t decide if I should be watching the performers in front of me, or turn my head to the video screen behind me. I realised the mimicking of singing in the rain had a purpose in the end. In the last part of the day, there was an energy lift as it became an interesting game of questions with the audience, and moving to the square taped shapes on the floor to indicate or “stand” your personal answers. The questions were about ordinary life matters that brought out identities and personalities across the space.
On my final note of this response to Enza’s Magical Nook – it is good to have watched and shared the experience with you [performers]. This performance does touch the surface of what could be the beginning, where art and disability moves forward, pushes boundaries far more seriously and takes those more head-on risks that lets us see the full potential of one’s ability in art.
Melinda Smith is a Visual and Dance Artist, living with Cerebral Palsy. She works in and out of her wheelchair and has performed as an improvised dancer since 2010. She has performed in India, Sweden and Australia. She is an author and public speaker and advocate for disability rights. Melinda works at the Cerebral Palsy Education Centre in Melbourne, and her mentor and public speaking engagements continue to be recognise Nationally and Internationally.
Photography credit: Snehargho Ghosh
1 – Sarah Ellis and Alisha O’Neil
2 – ArtLife artists and audience
3 – Nicole Campbell
4 – Henry Deakin