The Bridal Lament - Liveworks Festival (NSW)
Co-Commissioned with OzAsia, Co-Presented with CAAP.
Reviewed by Juliana Payne
Until 22nd October
- This multidisciplinary work combines visual and aural dimensions including singing, music, spoken word, digital imagery and lighting to transport you across cultures and time -
The Bridal Lament is what we used to call a multimedia production but is now more fashionably classed as multidisciplinary. Rainbow Chan 陳雋然 has created a melange of visual and aural dimensions, combining singing, music, spoken word, digital imagery, and lighting to transport the audience across cultures and time.
Drawing on her Weitou ancestry (the people who were the first settlers of Hong Kong) she speaks and sings of the near-extinct ritual known as 'the bridal lament'. The night before her arranged marriage, brides were carried to the loft of their parental homes, and there had a final bittersweet evening with their relatives, singing and eating, and grieving for her pending departure which meant never seeing her own family again. Cinephiles of the 1980s and 90s will be well versed in this cultural practice from the films of the great directors Zhang Yimou and Chen Kaige, and this performance is none the less evocative being performed for us by a single young woman. Chan is slim and graceful and uses both the power of her singing voice and physical movement very well to tell her story.
Image credit: Joseph Mayers
Chan’s voice is honeyed and mellifluous, perfect for the traditional songs that are the pillars of this production. She sounds a little bit Bjork at times, a little bit Kate Bush, and the traditional chanting rhythms and melodies are beautiful, hypnotic and transportive. She cuts between these songs with contemporary fem-pop girl-power songs – it’s like switching channels between SBS and Idol. We get a fair share of Taylor Swift and Beyonce stylings, and I couldn’t help but wish there were more of the traditional songs instead – they were much more interesting and engaging. These songs were rich with the poetic sensibilities of the East Asian tradition: the transience of life and joy, the beauty and resilience of nature - carpe diem writ large.
The work touches on intergenerational and cross-cultural perspectives – Chan uses Weitou dialect with and without subtitles, and a recording of her mother’s voice interspersed throughout the performance.
The work touches on intergenerational and cross-cultural perspectives – Chan uses Weitou dialect with and without subtitles, and a recording of her mother’s voice interspersed throughout the performance. The Bridal Lament is funny, moving and sad, as we know it is a symbol of a fading culture. Some of the pacing between spoken word and song could have been better balanced, and the interstitial speeches can be quite didactic and at odds with the dreamy mood created by the imagery, lighting and the singing that is like a lullaby in its effect.
Even though the Carriageworks space is cavernous, the dynamic digital projections and the high sound quality filled the space with colour and rich audio that made it more intimate, which suited the one-woman exposition. The Doctor Who time-portal conclusion was rather at odds with the overall style and mood, but regardless, it was an ambitious, beautiful and engaging production by a very talented and committed performer.
See the full program at the Performance Space's Liveworks