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Freedom Found within the Liberty Theatre: SITU-8 City

I often find myself looking up as I walk through the Perth CBD and wonder what lies behind the slumbering facades of the empty buildings that would’ve once been bustling with life.

Having sat dormant for twenty-five years, The Liberty Theatre on Barrack Street is a building that regularly catches my attention. Thanks to SRUT Dance and Tura the doors of this historic venue have been opened again, presenting eight original works within its walls as part of SITU-8 City.

SITU-8 is an annual initiative which asks performance artists and musicians to collaborate and create original site-based works. Inspired by the Liberty’s art house film history, this year artists were prompted to incorporate a key element from a film and relate it back to their own identities.

With eight short works in total the SITU-8 City program is split in two halves, one half with three consecutive performances in the cinema space and the other works playing out in a choose-your-own-adventure style format across the venue.

After assembling in the meeting point, which is the laneway between David Jones and Australia the Gift store, we’re brought into the building and ushered into the cinema space. The cavernous space has long been cleared out of its cinema seating and other furnishings, but a stage remains.

Our attention is directed towards two large TVs sitting on the stage where Sarah Aiken begins their piece ‘Demake/demaster’. Using the two TVs to play footage from iconic films, Sarah dips various body parts behind the TV corresponding with footage on screen to make it appear as if they’ve entered the screen. It’s a fun concept that links immediately to SITU-8’s cinema theme.

Sarah Aiken. Photography by Jed Steele.

Without missing a beat, performers from the next work ‘La Dolente’ make us swivel around to watch as they enter the cinema space with force. This work by Talitha Maslin features live music composed by Randa Khamis which matches the vivacious energy of the three dancers. The audience is forced to move around the room to catch glimpses of the performers who fly from corner to corner while speaking about labels and restraints placed on women.

Our eyes are then led upwards to the VIP room for the next piece ‘The Melody Haunts My Reverie’. We look up through the window as Antonio Rinaldi expertly embodies dozens of characters from Hollywood’s golden age of cinema through short grabs of audio. Celina Hage appears on the floor in almost a jump scare manner, bringing an eerie tone to the work. The performance descends into darkness with both Antonio and Celina creating haunting and surrealist images.

Antonio Rinaldi and Celina Hage. Photography by Jed Steele.

We have a brief stint back in the laneway before the second half. During this time, one of SITU-8’s co-curators Timothy Green gives us guidance on how the next series of performances will work. With maps and show times in hand, we’re told we essentially have free rein to explore and pick the works we want to see throughout various parts of the venue.

There’s some slight tentativeness as we head back in, most people gravitate towards one direction. I go in another, to see ‘Pretty Purgatory’ in the Candy Bar (that I swear still smells like popcorn). This work features Estelle Brown, Izzy Leclezio and Tom Mullane who is this piece’s creator. The trio are dressed in Jean Paul Gaultier-esque sailor costumes and use the candy bar as a stage climbing on top of it, sliding behind it and performing in front of it. The entire performance is very camp and elicits many laughs from the audience; definitely a crowd pleaser. 

Izzy Leclezio, Tom Mullane, Estelle Brown. Photography by Jed Steele.

We’re given a few choices of where to go next. I catch the end of ‘SS Bodach’ which was just enough time to admire Georgia Van Gills and Zendra Giraudo’s impressive synchronisation while wearing what looks like a mix of armour and an antique deep sea diving suit. Bobby Russell’s ‘Public Solitude’ is next featuring elements of live music from Peter McAvan and performances from Shuling Wong and Meg Scheffers. This work takes us through feelings of curiosity to pure joy while using the space and materials available in unique and interesting ways.

Georgia Van Gils, Zendra Giraudo. Photography by Jed Steele.

The venue reminds me of a rabbit warren, with lots of stairs and small spaces. In what’s named the ‘powder room’ Daisy Sanders performs ‘womb for world weeping’. The name of the room should’ve been an indication of just how tiny this space is. Some lucky individuals take seats while everyone else crams into the doorway, craning their necks to watch Daisy. Beautiful projections by Mitchell Aldridge play across all the walls while Daisy takes us through an intimate performance that brings up feelings of pain and deep longing.

The audience reunites for the final performance ‘Mercury Bones’ by Olivia Hendry and Kimberley Parkin with live performance also featuring Kimberley, alongside David Stewart and Nonie Trainor. This work brings together every element seen throughout the eight performances, from live music and performance to film. A figure dressed head to toe in blue dances in front of projection that plays shots featuring an array of people, dipping the audience briefly into their diverse stories and feelings. David Stewart plays an electric guitar live while Nonie Trainor captivates with layered vocals.

Kimberley Parkin, Nonie Trainor, David Stewart. Photography by Jed Steele.

SITU-8 City presents a rare and exciting opportunity for audiences to consume new and diverse works within a venue steeped in history and mystery. Co-Curators Timothy Green and Sofie Burgoyne, along with the STRUT Dance and Tura teams, have created a hub of creativity that has enabled ingenuity and artistic freedom for its performers and creatives. While the novelty of the venue is certainly a draw card, it’s the art that will no doubt stay on the minds SITU-8 City’s audiences.

SITU-8 City is on now through to Nov 11.