Split into two, Dragon Ladies Don’t Weep played with cooperation rather conflict. The first half – Double Phase – had its roots in exterior photography, while the second half – Dragon Ladies Don’t Weep – was an autobiographical sonic exploration courtesy of some piano, percussion, and family.
A series of smeared, impressionistic digital watercolours sliding from each image to the next formed the basis of Double Phase. Some of those colours and effects were fascinating, somehow other-worldly yet still often feeling as familiar as the colours that come through your eyelids when you close your eyes in the face of bright lights.
Possibly the most captivating element of this work from Makino Takashi and Lawrence English was the gentle shifts from warm inviting reds, to reds and oranges like you might find in an inferno, which then slowly became barren and grey before cycling back to revitalised colours.
Performed by Margaret Leng Tan and composed by Erik Griswold, Dragon Ladies Don’t Weep also had no shortage of interesting visuals. While a rectangle laid along a patch of floor and up the back wall, there were also fragments of music scattered about the place: a lone cymbal; pianos of different sizes, different melodicas, as well as some toys also.
With the help of live sampling, Margaret built many of the pieces here from the sound up, combining music from all manner of instruments. It’s reminiscent of work by performers such as Stephin Merritt, although instead of 69 love songs, Margaret and Erik have fashioned 14 pieces of music. These pieces sat among reflections from Margaret that were either projected or spoken – often at the same time.
Among occasional pithy statements were more interesting observations (and images) about the influence of her family and specific work inspired by and in collaboration with the composer John Cage. Margaret strikes a delicate, compelling balance between play and performance: handfuls of rice dropped onto the cymbal, looped sounds from a Fisher Price phone, modifying the strings in her piano or just plucking them directly.
There was more than enough to this charming, authentic work for it to have stood alone, but was a pleasant encounter with Margaret Leng Tan’s work nonetheless.
Dragon Ladies Don’t Weep
Playhouse – Arts Centre Melbourne, 100 St Kilda Road, Melbourne
Performance: Friday 28 February 2020
Image: Margaret Leng Tan in Dragon Ladies Don’t Weep – photo by Pia Johnson
Review: David Collins