Luciana Freire d’Anunciação is a performance artist working across disciplines including video, installation, photography, movement and sound. Her work ‘Vocation/Vacation’ sets out to address work and leisure though playful interaction with the audience. Sourcing words from viewers feelings about their jobs and free time, the artist then asks the audience help to choose costume and music options before embarking on her movement improvisation. By beginning this conversation with the audience as they settle into the theatre with the house lights still up, the work is divided into two sections, a collaborative discussion, and then a more formal performance for which the house lights are dimmed and an audio track accompanies her dance.
By allowing this access to the preparatory stage of the improvisation, viewers are invited directly into the creative act and are able to contextualize the subsequent movements using their own experiences and contributions. The points of inspiration are defined in collaboration with the viewer, making tangible the choreographic process happening in the moment. Freire’s movements oscillate between abstract and vaguely mimetic allowing for a variety of access points especially for those new to contemporary dance practices. She is a captivating performer and her improvisation easily slips into moments of humour, seriousness, introspection and sincere connection with her audience.
Katherine Neil is a visual artist just beginning to explore performance, though you would never guess this from her stage presence and natural sense of timing. Her work ‘Signs of Explosion—Essentially Dependent, Necessarily Incomplete’ utilizes floral fabric, cotton batting and unfired clay to pull apart and reshape the trappings of femininity through time based manipulation. Following a lineage of female artists working with materials typically associated with craft or the decorative arts, Neil seems to be breaking down and reassembling not only the expectations of being a woman, but specifically a female artist. Wearing a modest long sleeve dress, she dissects a pillow of the same fabric, and then removing her dress, fills the garment with the pillow stuffing to create a kind of life sized headless doll. She then proceeds to fill the pillowcase with clay, clawed from a large block one handful at the time.
The performance ends with the artist sliding herself into the bottom of stuffed dress, inserting herself underneath the clay filled pillowcase, and eventually poking her feet out the neck hole. Coming to stillness, she lays serenely on her back, the clay filled pillow perched on her chest and cotton floating gently around her like pollen. After the physical effort of material manipulation, she comes to stillness and breathes deeply, slowly. The clay rises and lowers on her chest, something that she clearly has the strength to bear, but a burden nonetheless.
Jessica Wilkie and Laura Avery are both accomplished dance artists and perform often in the work of local dance companies. Their new work ‘ISO’ is their second collaborative piece and demonstrates the breadth of their interest in performance practices utilizing text, vocalization, and pedestrian and dance based movement.
Shown through vignettes separated by blackouts, many of the scenes are accompanied by Wilkie making a buzzing or humming noise; a drone that grows gradually louder as the performance progresses. This sound is at times out of place, for example, while they are looking through receipts, moving their hands in an eerie unison. At other times, it fits perfectly within the scene, as when Wilkie takes on the form of a vacuum cleaner which Avery pushes awkwardly around the stage.
In one scene we see Wilkie seated downstage, with Avery laying on the floor next to her, gently prodding at her partner’s legs with the dainty balls of her feet.
Wilkie reads from Virginia Woolfe’s ‘The Waves’ with an intentionally ridiculous English accent. This reference to a sweeping and surreal survey of the intertwining lives of six friends may give us insight into the origins of these off-kilter scenes that the two artists are showing us. The bittersweet nostalgia of Woolfe’s prose always made me feel immensely sad about the fleeting quality of the quotidian, of childhood being over, and the absurdity of summing up a life in any possible way. During one transition, Wilkie obtains a pair of red satin gloves, but this addition of glamour makes no change to her blasé demeanor. A feather boa also makes it’s way to Wilkie’s neck during some blackout, again having seemingly no impact on the movements that she is executing. This creeping incongruity may hint at some secret ‘otherness’ that lays in wait and is somehow intertwined with these seemingly banal moments, only coming to fruition at the end of the piece when Wilkie has fully transformed into a human sized fly. Sporting a black bomber jacket she wears a mask with large sparkling insect eyes and sitting casually center stage, her droning gets louder and louder.
When her voice cannot increase in intensity, the buzz becomes amplified through the sound system, drowning out all else, and continuing even after the lights have faded to black.
Daniel O’Shea is a theatre artist, film maker and lighting designer. His work, ‘are we not drawn onward to new era’ is a solo performance incorporating custom made lighting and audio fixtures which act as his set and scene partners. With the house lights still up, O’Shea addresses the audience. He begins his work by warning the viewers of triggering content, at which point an ominous voice interrupts him from nowhere, mocking his caution. As the voice speaks, we see a small picture of an eagle behind him lighting up with a single red eye, but seemingly unfazed by this supernatural interjection, he continues. He lays out two life paths, the first goes smoothly in an idyllic 1950’s tradition: job, girlfriend, house, promotion, marriage, kids, etc. and the second is riddled with loneliness, job precarity, and financial struggles, each unfortunate decision being compounded by the poor decisions of a character without the support or emotional stability to do better. The lights fade and O’Shea seats himself at the small table, donning a hoodie and a pair of black gloves wrapped with a mess of tiny wires. We see our unfortunate character surfing reddit, uploading conspiracy theory videos on youtube and chatting with other similarily minded individuals. His environment shifts through subtle lighting changes and the introduction of other characters; a tin foil head and two coat racks clad in trench coats and ray bands, all voiced by cassette players. We follow O’Shea’s character as he is recruited by a shady agency and becomes a pawn in a power struggle which ends with everyone being double-crossed. It is not entirely clear whether this whole drama is all in our unstable protagonists mind, though an audio collage near the end of the work hints at this.
It may not be readily apparent to audience members that the set is being impressively controlled by O’Shea himself. Wires wrapped around his work gloves and looped through the inside of his hoodie allow him to trigger each lighting and sound cue by placing his fingertips on different points on the table in front of him and his own body. This intricate setup allows the performer the control over his environment that his character seems to be so desperately seeking.
This work treads some dangerous territory and O’Shea manages to address controversial subjects with careful consideration. Creating a work based in identity politics as a white man, he puts himself in the role of an angry and isolated individual identifying with the alt-right and ultimately turning to violence, while portraying the absurdity of romantic ideals of manliness. The piece ends as it began, with the lights up, and O’Shea as himself, describing talking a stranger off the train tracks. He reflects on his guilt at handing the man over to the police and posits that ‘in a different life, it could have been me.’ Our eagle interjects again here telling O’Shea that he isn’t like that other man, that he is one of the good ones. ‘Not all men,’ echoes the seductive voice of individual exceptionalism, ‘not all men.’
Antonio Somera Jr. is a dance artist beginning to explore choreographic practices. His work ‘see me by the way that I feel’ was created in collaboration with Joshua Oncol and Joanna Reyes. The three performers, young, beautiful and Filipino, explore identity, self doubt and ultimately self-expression through text, movement and a drag inspired lip-sync number. The piece begins with Reyes telling the story of a prepubescent moment of self-consciousness. She delivers her at times humorous story with a gravitas that hints at something more traumatic that the incident being described. The men improvise movement loosely in time with her monologue, at times playing off of each other’s actions but primarily lost in their own introspection.
Later, the performers address the audience directly, one person at a time stepping away to don flamboyant articles of clothing. It is clear that there is some kind of game at play here, with the performers attempting to speak to the audience in unison while improvising the words. Having seen this piece several times, I know that this section is always different; asking or begging the audience for their input, deriding or complimenting individual’s fashion choices, and often devolving into some kind of unfortunate one sided romantic conversation. This text all seems to relate to questions of self worth, social interactions and public persona with the performers attempting to put themselves in a position of power, passing judgment on the audience that watches them. Receding into romance induced melancholy, Reyes recites the lyrics from No Doubt’s 1995 hit ‘Don’t Speak’. The dancers, both incredibly adept at a variety of movement techniques, break their contact dance flow with complicated waacking style flourishes of the arms, eliciting more giggles from audience members at this uncommon meshing of styles. The men maintain a serious demeanor and as movement builds there is more violence in their interaction, manipulating each other’s bodies until Somera is thrown to the ground again and again, Reyes shouting the last line of the song with unselfconscious anger and frustration. Reyes abruptly changes the scene by addressing the audience: ‘If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell are you gonna love anyone else?….. Can I get an amen?’ And with a few cheers from the crowd, a disco track blast from the speakers and the performers break into choreographed number complete with confetti, a disco ball and pulling audience members on stage for a mini dance party. Like many elements of this work, this deus ex machina ending could read as immature in the hands of less skilled performers, but these young dancers approach each moment on stage with such sincerity, it is impossible not to be charmed. In a work that is about overcoming anxiety in order to express how you truly feel, it seems to be exactly what Somera has done.
Words by Julianne Chapple
Images by Cara Tench