Never Tilt Your Chair Back on Two Legs

Nerida Dickinson

Fascinating percussion conceptual pieces performed with panache, precision and good-natured whimsy.
Never Tilt Your Chair Back on Two Legs

Leah Scholes in Kate Neal's Never Tilt Your Chair Back on Two Legs. Image via PICA.

Performed by Louise Devenish, Leah Scholes and Vanessa Tomlinson, Never Tilt Your Chair Back on Two Legs is a spirited performance comprising two complementary works. Never Tilt Your Chair by Kate Neal is a new work written especially for this trio of performers, percussion its medium for examining the traditions and etiquette rules and expectations around the use of cutlery. Mauricio Kagel’s Dressur is 40 years old, and still relevant in its critique of composer control over the performance. Likewise written for a specific trio, it is reimagined by this contemporary female trio taking on its challenges.


Devenish, Scholes and Tomlinson are exemplary in both pieces, working together as a tight unit throughout each movement. Throughout Never Tilt Your Chair they are focussed and intent, creating compelling rhythms with humorous sight gags creating a commentary on table manners and social expectations. The tapping of cutlery handles on the table, the neat and dexterous use of tines and serrated edges for contrasting sounds, the syncopated thumps of chair legs on the floor and elbows on the table top, as well as the casual wiping of noses filled my head with remembered childhood admonitions as much as the intricate percussion sights and sounds.

The performers do not remain seated at the table, but respond to the insistent jangling of the cutlery-adorned chandelier above them, a custom-made instrument in its own right, with a mechanical device that sets the selected eating irons literally abuzz, adding its own challenges and sonic dimension to the work as a whole. This ties in with the second phase of the work, where each performer stands behind a unique rack with tuned cutlery pieces dangling from hooks, strapped tightly to rails and sitting on ledges, waiting to produce their own sound sensations. From delicate single notes ringing out to a rapid delivery of syncopated rhythms working together, to the crashing full flyaway thundering peals as the pace and intensity escalates on each of the racks, it is impossible to look away from the application of skilled musicianship to such unlikely instruments. Composer Neal and the performers deliver more than novelty percussion work, with the combination of pieces and performance rebutting the traditions of quiet women in a domestic sphere.

Composed in 1977, Mauricio Kagel’s Dressur is a caricature of the escalation of strict instructions from composers to performers, extending past the notes on the page to performance directions far beyond the requirements of the musical creation. The performers rise to the challenge and their delivery of the intense work not only encompasses the precision of the percussion required and the arbitrary nature of Kagel’s theatrical commands, but is accompanied by a humorous freshness in delivery that is eminently watchable. The full attention of the audience is evidenced in the spontaneous male wincing and female laughter at the use of anatomically punny nutcracker, as well as at points when yet another oddball piece of percussion instrumentation is revealed – the mini clogs picked up by the performer stomping along a piece of carpet and a plank of wood in large wooden clogs being one such moment. While Kagel wrote this piece for three male performers he knew, Devenish, Scholes and Tomlinson rise to the musical, physical challenges with capable aplomb, down to the removal of clothing to play coconut shells against the torso.

PICA and Tura New Music bring yet another extraordinary, challenging and innovative cultural experience to Perth audiences, presenting an entertaining and thought-provoking percussion experience. 

Rating: 4 1/2 stars out of 5

Never Tilt Your Chair Back On Two Legs

Presented by Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts & Tura New Music
Composer and Instrument Design: Kate Neal (Never Tilt Your Chair)
Composer: Mauricio Kagel (Dressur)
Dramaturgical Consultant: Rémi Deulceux
Venue Technician: Mark Homer
PICA Performance Space, Perth Cultural Centre
10 & 11 April 2017

About the author

Nerida Dickinson is a writer with an interest in the arts. Previously based in Melbourne and Manchester, she is observing the growth of Perth's arts sector with interest.