BWW Review: OZASIA FESTIVAL 2017: SCARY BEAUTY at Space Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre
Reviewed by Fiona Talbot-Leigh, Sunday 1st October 2017.
Keiichiro Shibuya is a Japanese composer and pianist who is known internationally for composing the Vocaloid opera, The End. Scary Beauty is his latest venture receiving its world premiere in Adelaide as part of OzAsia's Meeting Points, an umbrella name for a series of performances that take many different forms and, this year, sees the Australian Art Orchestra being a part of their most ambitious projects to date.
Scary Beauty is an opera that has been composed for Skeleton, which is one of the world's most sophisticated androids, a product of Osaka and Tokyo Universities. Skeleton has its own neural network mimicking our human brains. This gives it complete control over its limbs and facial expressions through electronic sensors and is something the likes of which I've never seen.
Skeleton is female and was dressed in a two-toned red dress complete with mauve coloured Doc Martins. Her hands and face were white, her torso, for the most part, remained still, as her arms, wrist and head moved, but it was her face that was the most intriguing. Skeleton's facial expressions were eerily familiar to that of a human being and I was caught between feelings of complete wonder and astonishment, to fear, as I realised this model can only be improved upon. Her eyes blink, her mouth moves, but it was the way her eyebrows could frame her face into a smile or a frown, mimicking that of a real person, which was the most intriguing. To watch her sing and, dare I say it, express herself, was incredible to watch.
Three musical pieces were played throughout the 35 minute performance, with the following members of the Australian Art Orchestra: artistic director, trumpet, and electronics, Peter Knight, saxophone, electronics, and technical consultant, Jem Savage, violin, Lizzy Welsh, 'cello, Hilary Kleinig, viola, Anna Webb, contrabass, Sam Pankhurst, percussion, Matthias Schack-Arnott, and bass trombone, flute, and buchla, Adrian Sherriff.
A cacophony of sounds exploded into the room to rival that of an action movie soundtrack and, at times, the volume bordered on assaulting, but this just added to the eclectic abstractness of it all. This was indeed a surreal experience as the lyrics to Skeleton's multiple vocals were projected onto a screen and the words were, at times, of a spiritual nature as she sang of love, joy, what it must feel like to be human, and having no fear in knowing one's self.
After the performance, there was quite an in-depth Q & A with not only the composer, but also the professors who created the android, and it was at this point the audience got to hear a little of how this intricate piece came to be.
These incredibly gifted men talked of the randomness of autonomy, and how, "in the decaying process of all things, is where we can find the beauty." As they talked further, a startling fact was brought to life that, in fact, throughout her performance Skeleton was given a certain amount of autonomy and, at times, when her arms lifted, it was of her own volition and not that of an operator. This was done, they said, from past programming, and it was this fact that had my mind ticking over, long after I left the theatre, of just how far the development of androids can actually go.
This production is science, humanity, electronics and music all mixed together. It is art at the next level.
Scary Beauty is, quite simply, bizarrely beautiful.