Posted by Seanna van Helten
17. Jul, 2013
“Why is it that we prescribe what beauty is for the male and female body in contemporary society?”
This is the thorny question that Ming-Zhu Hii asked herself in the early stages of This Is Beautiful, a new work by The Public Studio premiering this month as part of Malthouse Theatre’s Helium season. The response became what Hii, the project’s creator and director, describes as a “brutal meditation” on our society’s yearnings for an ideal physical beauty.
This Is Beautiful places three actors—Pier Carthew, Jing-Xuan Chan and Terry Yeboah—on stage and then “abstracts” or heightens their image on a sense-shattering cinematic backdrop.
“We adore them with the camera,” explains Hii.
“I’m fascinated by that wonderful potential that art has to exemplify and show the beauty of the individual human body.”
The performers are both objectified and objectifying, as they interrogate one another about their bodies, faces and identities over a sumptuous feast. By contrasting live and on-screen representations of the body in this way, Hii hopes to draw attention to the juncture between the pursuit of sublime beauty through art, and that of individual physical perfection through commercial and cosmetic means.
“I really believe that the pursuit of beauty is a legitimate thing and that is why we have art,” stresses Hii.
“But there is a manipulation of that with regards to our aspiration to improve ourselves physically,” she continues, citing cosmetic surgery and glossy tabloids as particularly pernicious examples that counter “the true, deep imperative in human life to discover and use beauty to heal us.”
A piece that sits, as Hii says, “at the intersection between theatre, live art, film and installation,” This Is Beautiful exemplifies the experimentation and creativity that exist in the crossover between independent and mainstage theatre.
For Hii, who has worked as an actor in both arenas, programs like Malthouse Theatre’s Helium and Melbourne Theatre Company’s NEON show audiences that theatre artists are already working in “one big mixing pot.”
“We talk about there being a pathway from the indie-scene to the mainstage,” says Hii.
“But it’s more about the transaction of ideas. About expanding the definition of what contemporary performance is.”
This Is Beautiful is playing at Malthouse Theatre from Friday July 19 until Saturday August 3 as part of its annual Helium season. For more information and tickets visit: malthousetheatre.com.au/helium
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