Burnt Out

Following the recent United Nations climate report, which has been described as a “code red for humanity,” it is more important than ever that we explore the issue of the climate emergency through theatre and dance.

Chivas incorporates movement, spoken word and song to share her personal experiences from past bushfires.

This is what Penny Chivas’ Burnt Out seeks to do. In this one-woman dance-theatre work she reflects on her own personal experience of Australia’s devastating bushfires in 2019/20, otherwise known as the “Black Summer.” Using theatre, dance and a lump of coal this work takes us on a journey through our changing climate and asks us why we feel we are unable to acknowledge the changes around us even when surrounded by thick smoke.

The show opens with Chivas, dressed in a white jumpsuit, slowly picking up large matches off the stage. She pays tribute to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders who are the traditional custodians of the land devastated by the bushfires and speaks about being the daughter of a prominent environmental geochemist.

Chivas incorporates movement, spoken word and song to share her personal experiences from past bushfires, including the Canberra fires in 2003, Melbourne’s Black Saturday in 2009 up to her most recent visit in 2019 during Australia’s Black Summer. The story shifts between fact and personal account.

This solo work is accompanied by Paul Michael Henry’s haunting soundscape which captures the sounds from the fires, from choppers circling overhead and the calls of magpies mimicking the wail of fire engines.

This is a clever and well-researched piece which tackles the most urgent issue of our time and includes sound bites from climate activists such as Greta Thurnberg.

However it can be a difficult task to bring a work like this to the stage without the use of visual multimedia. In order to really bring the point home it would have perhaps been more engaging and effective to have some video footage of the bushfires in the background to help bring the story more to life and to engage the more mainstream audience members.

This is a well thought out and timely piece that explores the most important issue of our time. However I think it is more accessible to audiences who specifically enjoy physical theatre.

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Reviews by Lynn Rusk

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The Blurb

Weaving spoken word and movement, we are taken through Australia's fiery history including Penny's own experiences. Embedded in sound is the Australian Black Summer; magpies that have learnt to mimic emergency sirens, shark sirens and helicopters circling overhead. Original music by Paul Michael Henry interwoven with the delicate lighting of David Bowes. An autobiographical dance-theatre work from the daughter of a prominent environmental geochemist, bringing together fact and personal account. Burnt Out is at once an intimate story and a universal meditation on climate change.

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