Death Defying Theatre

Death Defying Theatre's work for the past five years has been primarily concerned with how individuals and communities negotiate cultural difference. Themes of difference, identity, and the fluid meanings of culture, language and the self have been central to much of its work - from school touring shows to community-devised multimedia spectaculars, from bilingual storytelling to in-yer-face hip-hop personas.


Noroc! explores life in the gaps between cultures, on the boundaries of languages. It is a highly visual, movement-based work, which through the layering of text, sound, music, song, snippets of languages, installation and visuals tells the overlapping stories of four women displaced in Australia by their foreign-ness and in the countries of their mother- tongues by their Australian-ness. Do they have to reinvent themselves to live their new lives - or do they become more of who they were?

''Each culture breeds its own kind of derangement'

Those of us who have become a collage of foreign cultural heritage and contemporary sensibilities float on the edge of cultural belonging. For some this is agony, for others it's the rollercoaster we desire. It's an individual affair.

When two or more tongues and their cultural references collide the landscape of communication is hazardous. .... Miscommunication is inevitable. It is a daily ritual in which we are engaged. To some degree all of us are lost in translation.

Ultimately, we cannot trust the mind alone to decipher meanfng. As our worlds become less and less homogeneous we are forced to rely more heavily on intuition and instinct to interpret the signs and sjgnals of para-language.

Does psychic survival in the land of plenty depend on being fluent in the language of the soul' Tanya Gerstle

Noroc! explores the consequences of overlapping identities and the role of language as a flexible resource in constructing meaning and the self. The overlapping stories of four women who somehow find themselves in Australia unfold through sound and image, and a healthy dose of black humor

This non-naturalistic work ranges from the highly poetic to the sardonically direct: from the lateral to the literal. From the threaded bilingual conversations about feeling Australian in Romania and Romanian in Australia (I don't want to have to tell you, I just want you to understand), to intertwined recipes for sharing holocaust borscht and family resentment (keep the suffering simmering for several generations). They explore their relationships to this place as well as to another reality, whether overseas, across time and generation, or somewhere inside. The final irony is that English is just as foreign as Armenian, Romanian, Hebrew or Hindi.

Noroc! aims to:

Sydney Morning Herald

Monday, 8th April 1996

Cultural differences explored with zeal

Noroc, Performance Space, April 3

by Jill Sykes

Noroc! is dense with attitude and images in its exploration of cultural differences and similarities: for instance, the degree to which body language conveys meaning in spoken communication and the barriers of cultural stereotyping that melt away under closer observation.

Death Defying Theatre has been working in this area for five years and there is a sense of missionary zeal about the vivid unravelling of personal experiences by four distinctive individuals on stage.

In a program note, director Tanya Gerstle quotes statistics that divide person-to-person communication into 60 per cent bodylanguage, 33 percent vocal quality and only 7 per cent the actual content of the words. Such an imbalance between mind and intuition leads her to ask if psychic survival depends on fluency in the language of the soul.

This is a key to the approach taken by Aida Amirkhanian, Terese Casu, Deborah Leiser and Michelle St Anne. Movement speaks most clearly in their revelation of innermost thoughts and memories, even when their telling is also in words. It is also echoed by the title, Noroc!, which is described as an all-purpose Romanian word for hello, goodbye, cheers and 'when you don't know what to say'.

Diversity is obvious in every aspect, from cultural background to performance training and experience. Amirkhanian has worked with Maurice Bejart and Casu has moved from classical ballet to professional wrestling - when you see her spectacular rolling falls, you guess where she learned them.

Casu tends to be a showstopper, making much of her comic skills and over-the-top emotionalism, which she credits to her Romanian ancestry. But Gerstle appears to have kept a firm directorial hand on the workshop development of the piece, maintaining a balance between sequences, trimming them to maximum effect and moulding them into a tight structure.

Sound designer and performer Liberty Kerr makes a vital contribution by playing everything from tapes and electronic instruments to a bow across a saw and a cello. The subtlety of Pierre Thibaudeau's designs - crystalline shapes of shattered glass hanging from the ceiling, more than a hint of origami about the screen for poignant photographic and celebratory coloured images - brings sophistication and focus to the scattered elements of the whole. There is much to recommend in Noroc! for anyone who has not seen anything like it before. For regulars at the Performance Space, it will probably seem like more of the same. In some respects it is - though the women in petticoats didn't dance the tango beyond the point of making an audience impact this time around.

While it is perfectly logical that an artist brings the same material to a continuation of her particular concerns, and there is only a certain distance that a group of performers can go in devising a work over nine weeks, it is disappointing not to see this interesting area of theatrical exploration taken further than it is.

Aida Amirkhanian

Akia is a choreographer, performer, and dance teacher who has tourea with the Maurice Bejart Dance Company. In Australia she has worked with Human Veins Dance Theatre, Canberra Dance Theatre, and Jigsaw Theatre Company among others. Aida's recent performances include Mephisto Waltz, Samples, The Group and Jivan.

Terese Casu

From classical dance to professional wrestling! Terese has a diverse training and background in physical theatre and music. She has worked as an actor, musician, teacher, puppeteer and performer with many major Australian companies, and studied traditional arts and music from Eastern European, African and South American cultures.

Tanya Gerstle

Tanya has an honours degree in Theatre Studies, and trained as an actor in Europe and Australia. Since 1980, she has worked as an actor, director, dramaturg, teacher and theatre administrator. During five years based in Amsterdam, she directed more than ten solo and group devised projects in England, Italy and the Netherlands. She is currently co-artistic director of The Actors Centre, Sydney,

Liberty Kerr

Liberty has performed and engineered in the sound industry for the last 12 years. Her engineering experience ranges from youth and Aboriginal women's theatre to commercial productions, live and in studio. Liberty has also produced and engineered CDs for local artists in Sydney and is currently employed as in-house engineer at Troy House Studios, as well as freelancing in the local music scene.

Deborah Leiser

Deborah has worked in physical theatre both nationally and internationally. She has trained with Tadashi Suzuki in Japan and teaches his method, as well as movement for actors. For the last two years she has been working on her solo show, which will be performed at The Performance Space in August.

Michelle St Anne

Michelle's film credits include True Happiness This Way Lies, and David Caeser's new film Idiot Box. Her theatre credits include Not the Narrative at TPS and the reading of I Wanna Dance like Fred Astaire at The Stables Theatre.

Pierre Thibaudeau

Pierre is both a designer and performer with extensive experience in both fields, principally with Entr'Acte Theatre of which he is also a co-founder and co-artistic director. Other design work includes creations for Open City, The Sydney Front, Zoo Tango and Binh Ta Dui.