Tomorrow, in a year

I hated the first 20 or so minutes of Tomorrow, in a year. Hate is a strong word, but I just didn’t get why I was there. Not long after, I didn’t want this extraordinary and beautiful art to end. 

Hotel Pro Formathe Arts Centre, State TheatreWednesday, 20 October, 2010 Tomorrow in a yearI hated the first 20 or so minutes of Tomorrow, in a year. Hate is a strong word, but I just didn’t get why I was there. Not long after, I didn’t want this extraordinary and beautiful art to end. Somewhere along the way it all made complete sense and my brain and my heart worked together to be captivated in a way that will make me resent theatre that doesn’t leave me feeling so alive and inspired.
There’s been little controversy at this year’s festival. Sure, people have liked and disliked shows, but none have provoked such extremes as the first two performances of Tomorrow, in a year. Words like pretentious, banal and “like a Monty Python satire” have been tweeted with abandon; while at the bar after the show all I heard were superlatives like astonishing and sublime. My own tweet was: Fuck me wow.
Danish company Hotel Pro Forma worked with Swedish electronic music wonders The Knife to create what’s being called electro pop opera. I know how influential and amazing The Knife are because I talked with a self-confessed entertain-me-now, young and gorgeous gen Y after the show. The Knife’s music brought her to her first opera and her fifth theatre experience. She got it. It’s not just for the pretentious types who have seen hundreds of theatre shows.
Atmospheric electronic sounds and recorded natural sounds combine with three disparate voices – remarkable operatic soprano (Kristina Wahlin), electro-pop (Jonathon Johansson) and actor/singer (Laerke Winther) – that are enhanced, manipulated and allowed to sound like themselves. As the music develops its complexity and structure, the effect is like the first time you realise that caramel and salt belong together or you fall in love with someone who’s not your type.
Inspired by Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species, Hotel Pro Forma explore his wonder, confusion and awe of the natural world that us humans had barely begun to appreciate. This wonder changed the way humanity sees itself. At a time when creationism is still being taught to children and climate change skeptics are slowing our political and personal reactions (and taking up far too much of our media space), perhaps we need to be reminded of the complexity, indescribable beauty and adaptive qualities of our world.
But Darwin was just a man and suffered loss and experienced love like the rest of us. Humanity is brought into the world with a gentle narrative about the death of his daughter. When the libretto changes from it’s poetic descriptions of nature to “We have lost the joy of the household”, the work moves from an exploration of beauty to something human and emotional and reminds us how we too can and will adapt when our lives change without our consent. 
The design of a giant light box, back projections and laser light at first seems at odds with the descriptions of entombed animal carcasses and the costumes reminded me for too much of Blakes 7 (80s BBC sci fi), but it didn’t take long to understand the contradictions. The dancers, who looked like they belong at a rave dedicated to The Knife, moved like seaweed dancing “upon the moving mountain of foam” or a plant cells multiplying and reaching to the sunlight, and the design moved to reveal its workings (and satisfy our curiosity) and become something new.
If the music had been live, the experience would be lifted to a new level – that’s me just wanting more icing on the cake – but it’s frustrating that the design didn’t incorporate the surtitles (that were always going to be there) into the stage picture. After The Blue Dragon’s recent mid-titles, I never want sur- or sub-titles to pull my attention away from the stage again.
I’ve been told that there was booing on one night, but the final night’s audience included many people who just had to see it again. Surely such extreme reactions are  so much better than being merely OK and Tomorrow, in a year won’t be forgotten by anyone who saw it. 

Anne-Marie Peard

Anne-Marie spent many years working with amazing artists at arts festivals all over Australia. She's been a freelance arts writer for the last 10 years and teaches journalism at Monash University.

Anne-Marie Peard

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