Fortune Theatre, Dunedin

12/03/2015 - 14/03/2015

Hagley Open Stage, Christchurch

05/10/2015 - 07/10/2015

Dunedin Fringe 2015

The Body Festival 2015

Production Details

The environments, spaces, and objects of life are charged with sentiment, emotion, and memory. This reality is only amplified when through death we are severed from someone we love.

The Unity Creative presents an innovative theatre piece about grief and its universality to the human experience.

Crossing the disciplines of theatre, dance and puppetry all set to a soundtrack created live by a DJ/Producer ‘Amputation’ is sure to resonate with anyone who has experienced the roller coaster of grief. 


THU 12 – SAT 14 MAR        7:00pm
50 min
PRICE: $15.00 – Get tickets » 
Door sales $20

Christchurch season at The Body Festival 2015

Company The Unity Creative
Venue The Open Stage at Hagley College, 510 Hagley Avenue
Date/Time Mon 5th – Wed 7th October at 7.30pm
Duration 50 mins
Tickets $18, $14 concessions from Dash Tickets

Theatre , Puppetry , Dance ,

50 mins

Emotionally complex, aesthetically accomplished

Review by Erin Harrington 06th Oct 2015

In his remarkable meditation on loss and death, A Grief Observed, C. S. Lewis suggests that the death of a loved one is like an amputation, that it is like a fear, a concussion, and a constant ache. Amputation of Personality takes some of Lewis’s text as a starting point, and combines contemporary dance and music to chart what Lewis called a map of sorrow.

While the notes provided by deviser and dancer Jodie Bate situate this piece as a response to her own loss of a parent, as well as the grief, both personal and universal, that is so deeply stitched in to the events during and following the Christchurch earthquakes, the story itself centres of the experiences and feelings of a woman who is suffering through the death of her husband.

Bate’s choreography and movement is firm, muscular and grounded, combining traditional forms and expressive contemporary choreography with extended moments of stillness and more subtle, intimate gestures. She makes powerful use of repeated physical motifs, which stylise the hiding, rubbing and opening of eyes, the caress of a long-gone face, and a violent pain in the gut and heart. Anyone who has lost someone will relate to these physical expressions of the discordant static that sits behind your eyes. The cumulative effect of these repeated movements is quite powerful, especially as, by the end of the piece, they are blunted but remain potent, highlighting the almost habitual nature of grief and the way that it is never truly excised.

This is a beautifully expressed piece that makes good use of its sparse set, lighting and props. Flat white walls, upon which an empty frame hangs, create a sense of isolation, and as Bate enters, dragging her chair and a suitcase filled with mementoes, she casts large shadows across this private grief-space. The chair itself, which is a proxy for lover and his absence, is often illuminated from above, and Bate’s movements circle around it as she yearns for, clutches at and rages against the implacable, invisible other.

Director and composer Kristopher Bate’s soundscape, which includes snippets of Lewis’s text, stiches together disparate elements such as jazz standards, moody electronica and the sound of rain, and he includes live singing and guitar near the piece’s finale. The levels for the song at the end are startlingly high, but the remainder of the sonic background is beautifully textured and incorporated deftly.

The piece plays with but, thankfully, subverts the rather trite idea that one day the grief has somehow been incrementally worn away – an idea that seems to be as much born from an Oprah-style narrativisation of redemptive ‘closure’ as anything else. Instead, here grief and loss remain, an intractable part of one’s life and emotional landscape, and the ending is bittersweet without being pessimistic.

Yet, I feel a bit resistant; I often find it very hard to connect on a gut level to pieces that deal with highly personal issues such as grief, serious illness and recovery, even in this case where personal experience is being refracted through a somewhat fictional lens. They are such intimate and idiosyncratic things that there’s always an irritating part of my hind brain that says ‘but it wasn’t like that for me’. Similarly, my companion, who lost her life’s partner not too long ago, is unable to accept a sequence in which Bate conjures up the ghost of her lover by animating and dancing with his shirt, because to her it seems to lack a necessary desperation and yearning.

This is not a criticism of the piece at all, for it is beautifully put together, and Jodie and Kristopher Bate, between them, have created something that’s emotionally complex and aesthetically accomplished. Rather, it’s an indication that with this sort of a piece the connection between performers and audience is extremely complicated and cannot always be accounted for.


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Melancholic vignettes ready for further development

Review by Jonathan W. Marshall 13th Mar 2015

Dancer/deviser Jodie Bate presented an earlier version of this work in Cut.Paste.Collaborate at the 2014 Dunedin Fringe (see This year she has taken this sketch and extended it out to a full length work.

Bate is an engaging, highly charismatic figure to watch move. She has a palpable youthfulness and energy which bubbles over in the more comic sequences. This is rendered deeper by her maturity, which makes even some her simplest gestures (such as the slow caressing of the edges of a suitcase) carry considerable affective weight and beauty.

The central conceit of a piece—mourning—is a rich one, and in large part Bate carries the emotion of this experience across into the relatively simple but elegant choreography through her physical stature and charisma. It is not a piece of great complexity or physical feats. Amputation of Personality is largely, and at its best, a work of gentle melancholy and wistfulness.

It is therefore easy to see how, in the shorter version, Bate more than commanded her material.

The current version is consists of a series of essentially stand-alone dramatic-choreographic sketches, all focused around mourning, although some of the comic interludes, played in an exaggerated almost buffoonish manner, do rather jar.

Whilst some of the choreography does return across the larger work—a hand that reaches out before Bate’s face to close its fingers on empty space, and then slowly retract the arm down to the torso—most of these gestures are part of a fairly well known and commonplace set of vocabulary for “the mourner.” Reaching for the absent lover is not something one is likely to have not seen on stage or in the cinema before.

Whilst this choreographic language is indeed very easy to read, it can come across as somewhat pedestrian or unremarkable. The piece opens with Bate dragging in a chair (the resonant bassy tremors which this produces through the studio’s floor, coupled with a deep “doof” in the soundtrack, is one of the great pleasures of this work), before the chair is carefully placed on stage and transformed into a symbol of the absent yet still remembered body of the loved one.

This very well known theatrical concept introduces things well, but Bate does seem to struggle slightly to come up with less well known alternatives or developments upon this. The “solo-dancer-with-chair” is one of the stock standards of mixed bill dance shows, and is one of the most common training exercises given to dancers (“Here’s a chair or other object, now go off and make a dance with it, using it as your partner”). It is well known because it works, but it is a cliché. Many other of the choreographic choices taken here can also seem rather familiar.

The extremely challenging task of turning a series of short sketches into a larger, cohesive work is not especially well handled. Each section has a different piece of music—sadly, not acknowledged in the program, though I did recognise Miles Davis from Kind of Blue; I continue to dream of the day when dance-makers will give musicians the respect they deserve and explicitly name them in their credits—and most of these vignettes simply end, before Bate either leaves the stage or launches into the next sequence. Given the shared thematics of the show, these discontinuities do not present her material in as good a light as one might hope. The lack of choreographic and narrative transition is exacerbated by the musical discontinuity.

Also, many significant details regarding what is presented on stage do not seem to have been as deeply considered as one might like. One of the highlights of the work is when Bate builds a body on her chair by taking out two folding rulers, and setting them in a pair of shoes first as legs, and then as arms in an otherwise empty jacket. She then lifts up her phantom partner and waltzes about the space. It is a great image, and done in a spirit of joy and fun. This is certainly enjoyable, but emotionally and narratively this sense of gentle play is inconsistent with the melancholy of the majority of the piece. The point seems to be that the mourner has mood swings, but certainly I felt that rather than simply crunching from one gear to another, it would have been stronger and more affectively dense to try and infuse sorrow within the game itself, to ease us into these spikes of pleasure and remembrance within the deep sadness of loss.

Whatever the case, the props and other details do not appear to have been carefully considered. The wooden rulers are old, with a beautiful patina and worn brass hinges. The suitcase the rulers are taken out of is a lovely beige, leather-covered traveller of the late 1950s. The coat is white, striped, almost something to wear in an English garden in the 1940s. In short, every prop is infused with a sense of nostalgia and history. Certainly mourning is connected to these concepts, but the audience is adrift in trying to read further. Is the suggestion that the absent lover was older than Bate, someone who matured in the 1950s? Is the whole piece in fact about more than the loss of a specific (presumably male) lover, but it is more generally about the loss of the past itself, of how a figure can stand for a whole world and an era?

I ask these questions not to insist that all, or indeed any, be dealt with per se, but to illustrate that Bate and her director/advisor do not appear to have been attentive to how some of their choices beg precisely such questions, and raise a series of associations, which also makes up the material of this drama, in addition to Bate’s own fine physical presence. To fail to then work with these affective concepts raised by the piece is a missed opportunity.

All of this is to say that the ground work for an extremely good piece is here. Several fine choreographic and narrative concepts have been developed. But if this work is to be what it could be, the overall dramaturgy, the link between symbols in the first scene and the fifth, needs to not only be more deeply considered, but brought out and expressed.

Bate has one rather interesting gesture of bringing her hands over her eyes, across the top of her head, and down along the back of her trailing hair. This almost suggests a gesture of washing or cleaning, which could for instance be echoed in the sound track by rain effects or a more subtle—and ideally composed—musical accompaniment throughout. Another more original highlight was a point where Bate flailed on the ground, kicking and drawing herself across the floor almost as if struggling to swim against a current. Whether intended as watery symbols or not, an opportunity to more clearly link these very inventive gestures could make this currently rather discontinuous work really flow.

Bate has established herself here as a strong dancer and promising deviser. With greater attention to larger arcs, emotional progressions, and symbolic or metaphoric links across the piece, I am confident this—or indeed Bate’s next work—will be one to look out for.



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