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News, Performing arts, Reviews, Theatre

A one-woman weaving

Review: Suzanne Ingelbrecht, PRESENTES! ·
Minnawarra Chapel, Armadale, November 28 ·
Review by Xan Ashbury ·

Like millions around the world in 1987, I listened to U2’s Joshua Tree on repeat. And its final track, the hauntingly beautiful and desperately sad “Mothers of the Disappeared” grabbed me by the throat (and led me to my school’s Amnesty group). A hymn to human rights, the song refers to the Madres de Plaza de Mayo, a group of women whose children had “forcibly disappeared” at the hands of the Argentine and Chilean dictatorships.

The mothers’ heart-breaking plight is a central thread in Suzanne Ingelbrecht’s one-woman play. Written and performed by Ingelbrecht, and directed by Igor Sas,  PRESENTES! weaves song, dance, film and storytelling to relay her physical and psychological journey through South America.

“Presentes” is Spanish for “here” or “present”. The mothers (now grandmothers) march every Thursday, 40 years after their children were taken off the streets. Their presence, their visibility, has spurred the ongoing search for truth and justice.

Footage from the weekly march and portraits of the disappeared, etched into glass at a memorial, are projected on a screen at the back of the stage (the work of filmmakers Belinda Thomas and Tina Aliedani).

A woman smiling, standing in front of a projection of film footage of women at a protest.
‘PRESENTES!’ weaves song, dance, film and storytelling to relay Suzanne Ingelbrecht’s physical and psychological journey through South America. Photo: Organic Productions.

Ingelbrecht also uses the word “presentes” to represent her own refusal “to go quietly into invisibility, shuffling off this mortal coil with an apologetic look back over my shoulder”. In 2016, she travelled from Buenos Aires, across the Andes to Chile, back to Argentina and down to Ushuaia in Tierra del Fuego.

One of the most dramatic episodes re-enacted during the show is a trek through ice and 80km/hour winds in Patagonia. I enjoyed the suspenseful story of a hairy bus ride a on dodgy road and the tale of a poignant encounter with a masked Airbnb host.

Ingelbrecht says she undertook the epic trip to connect with her childhood fantasies, stirred by her father’s fascination for the Incas and Andes. Vignettes about her relationship with her dad form a key part of the play. One relating to dashed expectations at a swimming carnival is particularly moving.

Less successful, for me, are the stories about the fraught relationship with her travelling companion, Sarah. Some jokes landed (such as Sarah’s criticism, over breakfast in Chile, of Bob Dylan winning the Nobel Prize). But I found Ingelbrecht’s unflattering imitations of her frenemy mean spirited; an airing of dirty laundry. Why do some friends “disappear from your life”, she asks. Linking the women’s “breakup” to the disappearance theme also seemed distasteful, given the seemingly petty nature of the women’s dispute and the unspeakable tragedy faced by the mothers of the disappeared.

The tango, which embraces both passion and cruelty, becomes an effective motif in the show and fabulous footage of a social tango dance evokes a sense of place.

Ingelbrecht is a multi-skilled performer. My favourite scenes in PRESENTES! comprise Ingelbrecht dancing by herself, with just a chair on stage, to piano accordion music composed and played by Cathie Travers (choreography by Li-anne Carroll).

“PRESENTES!” will be performed again outside the Artists’ Retail Collective (ARC) Building in Jull Street Mall, Armadale on Thursday, December 13 at 8pm.

Pictured top is Suzanne Ingelbrecht in “PRESENTES!” Photo: Organic Productions.

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