Musings on Screwed: Day Two

Screwed, a three-night event at The Bunker Theatre promising “curious, (dis)honest and unhinged” performances, assured the audience of eclecticism. A buffet of relatively short dance pieces, if you will.

Curated by Orley Quick, the array of talent ranged from the theatrical to the bizarre (we’ll get into that later); and I had the opportunity to once again watch one of my favourite pieces this year – Orley Quick’s, and the Hairy Heroines’, brainchild As We Like It. Sadly unable to witness the opening and closing nights, I turned up with eager eyes on day two (Sunday 30 July).

As I sat down in the second row, my eyes took to the projection of the choreographers of the night in the Screwed flyer style on the back wall; and I must say I found it quite daunting. The Bunker Theatre is an underground venue, with a sunken stage – almost in the format of an amphitheatre – which had an atmosphere of unavoidable darkness.

Something about the staring, smiling, levitating heads in dark space seemed comically sinister. The sombre tunnel-like corridors I had to pass through to reach the stage area propped up this feeling.

The Hairy Heroines

Huge digression aside, As We Like It opened the evening. I first saw the piece at The Place in January and must come clean of my biases before delving deeper. I described it as a “deconstruction of gender… that works”. It’s an incredibly aware piece – aware of how each technique, movement, and theatrical device could be used to drive the sociological points home. I was able to further dissect the piece with Orley during an interview.

My first thoughts on this particular evening were of the size of The Bunker and if this would hinder the piece. The premier of As We Like It benefited from the room afforded by The Place. It had an air of breath to its progression (I recall the elegant penny-boarding around the stage of Tyrrell Foreshaw, with silk cloth flowing behind him). How will they manoeuvre the space? Will the grand, playful world they created at The Place be inherently different to the inevitable and imminent small world?

Yet I was also eager to see As We Like It from a new, intimate perspective (I sat quite far back at The Place).

The three performers – Diogo Fernandes de Jesus, Tyrrell Foreshaw, and Elliot Minogue-Stone – begin the deconstruction of gender by swinging between elegant, flamboyant thigh slapping to aggressive, play-fighting. A contemporary Haka of sorts. An observation of boisterous playfulness and competition. Awkward laughter echoed as an unsure reaction to what was unfolding; a feeling that was present throughout the piece. One I imagine was intended.

It’s a tricky piece to navigate as an audience. It’s quite easy to make the layer of silly the focal point of the piece – the way the performers totally embody the playful flamboyant theme is enough to be entertained by. But beyond that, lie layers and layers of commentary on gender. Take a scene where the three performers take downstage. Stood in their seemingly ordinary and typically masculine clothing – simple dark jeans and a palette of pastel blue and maroon shirts – they begin to undress, with deadpan stares into the audience. Tyrrell unveils a long flowing maroon dress, Elliot, an olive-green dress, and Diogo, a pastel green dress.

The significance could be missed. But the fact the dresses were always worn under the casual day-to-day clothes for what seems to be about a third of the piece needs a closer inspection. Is this an observation of femininity existing in all of us? Or perhaps a commentary on the struggle to accept such a side to us. Diogo is a perfect example of this. Earlier on, he broke out in a fit of gut-wrenching primal grunts and screams, abruptly cutting into the flamboyant characterisation by all. That, to me, appeared to be a rejection of where the scene was headed – into uncharted, feminine territory. Yet this character now shows this beautiful dress after stripping the layer that erupted in frustration.

This character later went on to perform an elegant solo, displaying technique recognised under the Ballet and Contemporary umbrella. It was enticing. And also a shame that journey didn’t really go anywhere. It just happened, and those lucky enough (and not taken into the extravagance of the other two) were able to witness it.

Speaking of extravagance, Tyrrell and Elliot had a heightened characterisation in comparison to the premiere at The Place. Being closer to the audience brought a lot of that out. There were additional seats to the immediate front and sides of the stage. And sat stage right was Orley. They all ran away with this intimacy, but Elliot in particular took every possible chance to perform to (and at) Orley, with maintained and prolonged eye contact; and Orley couldn’t keep a straight face. This honest interaction did nothing but enhance the experience, almost acting as a reaction blueprint for the audience. Discomfort, awkwardness, adorned by stifled laughter.

This piece benefits from a smaller space. The audience can observe more, experience more, and the is better received. They, and this piece, thrive on audience interaction. It’s a great way to introduce the many layers of discourse occurring on the topic of gender. And it’s never too subtle, just a bit uncomfortable to confront, with the preference being a quick laugh and blush. Comedy is a great tool to pierce certain subjects, and Orley has found the best tool for this particular endeavour.

Maria Rodrigues

Photo by Nela Pietrová

Now, by Maria Rodrigues, came next and would have benefited from a warning of strobe lighting as that entrance was quite the surprise. Even more so as it seemed to have been used as a ‘wake up’ mechanism. Maria emerged, after the initial strobe flickers, in a calm, cool hue lighting state. The pointlessness of such an introduction left a negative impression I struggled to shake throughout the 10-minute performance. Something worth revisiting.

Now, put simply, is a play of movement, techno sounds, and light. Maria moves in space under ever-changing lighting states, and her technique cannot be questioned. Yet it felt as if there was too much of a focus on movement. As someone who watches first and reads the synopsis after, it simply felt like watching a dance piece. Nice movement, coupled with interesting lighting states, and an epic techno score.

The performance came to life when breath and space settled. The natural ‘bop’ we have as reaction to techno music manifested itself on Maria and the scene flourished. Rather than perform, it seemed as if there was an air of possession at play. Possessed by the sounds, the natural movement reaction, and the lights, bathing in all three in a ritualistic manner.

Aesthetically, this piece became incredible. Repetitive arm swings and steps under a spotlight had this afterglow, as if Maria became light and left lines in her wake; typical of a long exposure light painting. And I’m sure this was what she was after. The attempt to “explore time and its perception” was quite apparent in this instance. Yet it was such a short glimpse of it as the lighting state soon changed to a back lit state, leaving a silhouette to view.

Now would benefit tremendously from shifting to film. The illusion of time created by the trance-like state where music, movement, and light co-existed in harmony could be further, and better, explored in film. I picture the works of Ania Catherine and her approach to light. This piece has incredible potential, and from my experience, is limited to glimpses of its goal in a typical theatrical space.

Arunima Kumar.jpg

“Let me die tonight…” These words ring out at the core of Burnt: the legend of the Indian goddess Sati – the fierce goddess who burnt herself after her father ridiculed her husband, Shiva.

Arunima Kumar takes us on a journey of sacrifice by exploring immolation and how this act, in the legend of Sati, came to be a ritual where widows were burnt for purifications’ sake.

Burnt, is storytelling at its finest. Using south Asian dance Kuchipudi, described by Arunima as “heavier than Bharatanatyam” (after my search for clarity – the two forms share some similarities), this piece is the epitome of physicalisation. The essence of Sati was clear through Arunima’s fierce eyes, and daring hand gestures. Especially at a point in the piece where, under a red spotlight and live vocals by Linda Shanovitch, Arunima began a ritualistic self-sacrifice; offering open palm hands to the audience during glimpses of vulnerability.

There was a sense of intense questioning. What was a woman seen as without a husband? Are they incomplete? Does it signify the death of their identity? We never quite found an answer. But we were given an insight into the mindset of widows privy to this ritual.

The horrific ritual was questioned in many other forms by Arunima. There were projected texts, and drawn images, observing what being a bride and a widow meant; and the devastating effects the rituals had. From the array of text, images, and narration on top of the physicalisation of the piece, and live vocals, it was quite apparent Arunima wanted the point to be fully grasped.

But I feel there was an overzealous use of mediums to communicate. Perhaps the spoon feeding of information was through an awareness of a cultural barrier existing between performer and audience that would hinder full comprehension of the topic. The essence of the piece came across through theatrical devices and Arunima’s movement. In this case, less is more.

Unbaptised Infants

Photo by Maria Jansson Lothe

Unbaptised Infants Part 2 elicited quite the head scratching and a few raised eyebrows. Appearing in navy and black pantsuits, with shimmering sequin shirts, Lorea Burge and Hannah Parsons set out to confuse.

And that they did.

The “ode to being confused” began with angular movements, imbedded in joints, seeming quite mechanical. The two move together, separately, and catch each other’s phrases in a constant flow. Any sense of immersion was broken by Lorea and Hannah exiting the stage, only to return with two microphones perched on stands. The bizarre then began (we got there in the end).

Incomprehensible words were spewed, with rhymes appearing and disappearing. A harmonised chant and hum resonated out of the blue, and became the score of the next movement sequence. This ‘now-we’re-going-to-dance’ and ‘now-we’re-going-to-speak’ format continued till the end.

Throughout the movement sections, I found myself asking ‘other than aesthetics, what are you trying to communicate?’ The “this is a poem about…” spoken texts solicited a similar reaction. ‘What is the point?’ The poems made it quite clear there was none. Especially after looking at my notes and realising I had underlined ‘coherence’ thrice, with a star next to it for good measure.

I’m all for the subversion of theatre. Cunningham’s idea of movement not necessarily needing narrative comes to mind. Unbaptised Infants Part 2 embodies this in its entirety. Nothing was being communicated and nothing made sense. Yet the reaction wanted and the one received by such a self-aware and parodic piece are quite different. Rather than reviewing the performance and exclaiming it to be a clever ‘gotcha’ piece of theatre, it was more of a resigned ‘fair enough’. And I believe it’s to do with clarity. Not in the content but in the way the content (or lack of) is delivered.

The poems were barely audible and the movement felt languid at times. It all felt disjointed. Ironic. There was a need to understand there was nothing to be understood, and a need to guide the audience, or at least create the environment for this realisation to occur naturally.

Perhaps it’s my missing of part 1. Perhaps it’s to do with the narrative-heavy Burnt preceding, regardless of the interval. Perhaps it’s the internal bias we carry as theatre spectators, getting too used to a certain type of theatre and a certain manner of consuming. All of this I understand; even if the synopsis suggests “there is nothing to be understood”, it’s quite apparent the piece would not exist if there was no point. (Everything we do as humans carries some form of sociological baggage.) Equally, one could argue nothing makes sense until we give it meaning. But I digress.

Irony and parody are very powerful when done right, and Unbaptised Infants Part 2 narrowly misses the mark.

ƎɅOLVE.jpg

Screwed promised unhinged dance performances, and ƎɅOLVE was exactly that. The synopsis reads like narration to a terrible film. “Four dancers, one track, and the need to never ever stop…”

Armed with a palette of red, rose, and white casual wear – jeans, shirts, and dresses, Mariana Camiloti, Antonio de la Fe, Petra Söör, and Robert Vesty of anthologyofamess began moving in a dimmed yellowed lighting state with no score. The movement was slow and intricate, with a few injected jerks.

Learning from the previous piece, I realised there wasn’t going to be much of a narrative, so I started fishing for intention – anything in a theatrical space will have an intention of some sort. Or so I thought. Even after carefully watching each individual performer for a time, the golden nugget was elusive. But there’s a answer to that. It’s simply movement. At times two would have a random interaction that could be as short as a touch or as long as an elaborate duet.

The running theme post-interval seemed to be ‘doing for the sake of doing’. And so they kept moving, until a gradual rise in a techno-like score (an edit of Donna Summer’s ‘I Feel Love’) appeared and brought a sense of urgency. More physicality appeared, with my eyes being particularly drawn to Antonio’s travel through the space.

I must admit, it became quite a chore to watch. Not necessarily out of a want for ‘something’ to happen – there was a lot going on – but for the gradual change of pace to work towards a crescendo. It was like watching a contact improv company in rehearsal. As interesting as movement is, 20 minutes of seemingly the same intensity can be quite difficult to watch in a theatrical space. I was made aware I was an audience member, and they were all quite (impressively) in and dedicated to their world. It became a voyeuristic experience, with an invisible wall stopping any sort of immersion.

ƎɅOLVE hit a plateau five minutes in, never moved beyond it, and never came down; leaving an air of expectancy that was never satiated.

I left The Bunker Theatre with two thoughts in mind. Theatre shouldn’t always be comfortable, and challenging an audience’s preconceptions of either being informed, affected or entertained in a theatrical space should be done (tactfully) more often.

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