‘Everything has a fucking value’: Negative Dialectics in the Work of Back to Back Theatre

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Calvert, Dave (2016)

Back to Back theatre is an Australian ensemble of actors perceived to have learning disabilities. Its international profile has advanced substantially in recent years following touring productions of small metal objects (2005), Food Court (2008) and Ganesh Versus the Third Reich (2011). This article considers each of these productions, along with surrounding discourses, within a reflection on the political significance and formal innovations of the work. Motivated by restless dialectical enquiry, Back to Back’s approach to devising and performing is situated within a post-Brechtian lineage that resonates with Adorno’s theory of negative dialectics. \ud The analysis centres on a metatheatrical episode in Ganesh Versus the Third Reich in which the audience is accused of indulging in ‘freak porn’. Analyses of the production frequently highlight the inescapable tension of this moment, while overlooking the unresolved contradictions that underpin it. These contradictions unsettle the imaginary concepts of actor, spectator and learning disability which inform the work’s production and reception. Building on broader analyses of Food Court and small metal objects, and invoking Adorno’s notion of the constellation, I argue that Back to Back’s dialectical procedures pursue the formal (and ultimately frustrating) limits of theatre’s capacity to affirm the extra-ideological value of its objects.
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