Awkward Altars

The Basement, Auckland

01/03/2013 - 03/03/2013

Auckland Fringe 2013

Production Details

The premiere of Cat Ruka’s new full-length performance work Awkward Altars runs from the 1st to the 3rd of March 2013 at The Basement. Featuring a collective of 10 independent practitioners who between them have created over 100 performances, this work celebrates the beautifully dissonant nature of how we as Aucklanders relate to each other. 

“I have deliberately brought together an unlikely ensemble of local artists who offer a multi-generational, inter-cultural and diverse spectrum of life experience,” says Ruka. “In this performance we take genuine risks and revel in the opportunity to cultivate our social differences.” 

***Please visit the following link to purchase tickets (*** 

Venue: Basement Theatre, Lower Greys Ave, Auckland CBD, 1010

Date: 1st, 2nd, 3rd of March

Time: 5:30pm

Cost: $20 / $15

To watch the Awkward Altars Promotional Video please visit:


Performers/co-choreographers: Val Smith, Emily Moffat, Matthew Moore, Jennifer De Leon, Cat Ruka, Kristian Larsen, Zahra Killeen-Chance, Liana Yew, Lisa Greenfield, Haydon Timoko.

1 hour

A wild collaboration

Review by Christina Houghton 02nd Mar 2013

5:30pm on a Friday afternoon in this stunning Auckland weather is a difficult time to go into the dark elongated space of the Basement Theatre. However, there is a festive vibe as people are drinking beer in the sun and we are subsequently greeted by Zahra Killeen-Chance, a member of the Awkward Altars crew, in a fantastically slightly awkwardly styled leopard girl outfit, writing name tags for those about to enter.

Awkward Altars features the artistic talents of Val Smith, Emily Moffat, Matthew Moore, Jennifer De Leon, Cat Ruka, Kristian Larsen, Zahra Killeen-Chance, Haydon Timoko, Liana Yew, Lisa Greenfield and James Risbey and Lucy Beeler (Music). This work is the inspiration of choreographer Cat Ruka who has a reputation as presenting work that is provocative and political. This is a first sketch of a work that hopes to be developed for the future and  I am intrigued as to what this wild collaboration will reveal. 

There have been promises via Facebook of spot prizes of bunches of flowers and wine for early ticket buyers, but I don’t see any of this. I expect the receivers have stashed them out of sight somewhere. After the initial unexpected relocation of the ‘meeting’ by a dodgy guy in a hoody (Kristian Larsen) we are invited to sit around the edge of the new space with intense spotlights at both ends. We see the back of the unplugged gold and silver Val Smith as she rewinds and replays a swaying action to temporal video projections of external forces of the environment. We feel like we are at the back of the space or are we? We are in a different space to where we began, we are unsure and unsettled. What an awkward beginning, this is great. 

As the performance progresses I feel like I am witnessing a strange kind of ritual of the everyday. Where it seems to take all the effort that the performers can muster just to get out of their seats (which are beside us around the edge of the space in a single row) to participate in a slow awkward drifting towards the lights.  As we sit on the edge of this private/public space the performers reveal, through wacky ill placed costumes and embodied modes of performance, their masquerades of daily life, and not to mention what a wig will do for your complexion. In a state of empathy I almost feel like I am going to end up in the space if I lean too far forward. As the title suggests this is an ‘Altar’ of some kind, perhaps a place for activities of a cathartic nature? or perhaps altered states? It definitely feels unusual.

The performance plays out in this elongated space that creates slanted perspectives on the action, and provides multiple perspectives of the encounter. Within the soundscape of Canadian meditation music, the flat lined narrations have a feel of a Markus Schinwald dance film. The voiceover talks about the everyday mundane forces of the city and continues over the video projection of the construction of Britomart transport centre and hyped reality of the internet, which creates a sense of foreboding. The performers appear as de-sensitised and on occasion over-sensitised cut-outs of their former selves, contorting and responding to the surrounding media. They are portraying similar feelings of loss and missed connections of our cyber society. This piece is a sensory representation of the culture of social technology.  I find that this is a particularly well-crafted moment of intertwined emotional narratives that lie beneath the ungainly staggering of the performers, an example of their commitment to that specific moment in time.

The performance slowly appears to have become a therapy session where the performers embrace in a line of disembodied hugs. At the same time, miss-givings about life are revealed through Mathew Moore’s explosive rap and Kristian Larsen’s helium balloon talking. I get the feeling that art can heal the soul.

The performance moves on up with a mix of full on techno beats (described as a mix of dirty ol’ Trap, Witchpop, that includes tracks by James Risbey, Lucy Beeler, Jam City, Erik Satie and a little taste of Baauer’s remix of Flosstradamus’). First with a ‘GIRL’ dance lead by the seductive Emily Moffat. Which transforms into an exciting moment where we see Ruka’s distinctive movement quality – gritty and physical – that reminds us that choreography is her chosen art form and its great to see how these performers work it. Each distinct individual then plays at the group mind in a choreography that resembles a deranged ongoing flash-mob that intentionally repeats itself to death pushing it to the edge of ridiculousness. Yet there is always someone on the edge or at the back where we are sitting, losing the plot or looking for it, in a cathartic type of fashion. I enjoy the opportunity of these ‘back stage solos’ to really get the feel for the essence of each of the performative characters such as Liana Yew’s physical pink lady. I really want to know what brings these individuals to this space. I would be interested in how further development to the character’s intentions may add further depth to the piece.

The piece intentionally falls apart as it leads towards the end, where we eventually arrive at a beginning scene. The appearance of the latecomer (Lisa Greenfield) is a highlight that throws the social hierarchy out of its fragile order. I am impressed with the power that this intervention has to disrupt our perceptions of the social dynamics that we have been witnessing until then. Another highlight is Haden Timoko’s crazed summary of what we had been witnessing that propels the performers into obscene grinning and inappropriate laughter. Leaving those in the audience questioning whether to join in or not.

This piece is truly an example of the creative power of collaboration. The range in perfoprmer’s levels of experience adds to the dynamics of an unusual nature considering Jennifer De Leon has had many more years experience than other performers who have recently graduated. Even though each performer has a distinct eclectic style to their own work, I feel that they all met in a place that bridges difference and culture. This process has been enhanced by the distinctiveness of each performative character that could only have emerged from this collaboration. There was however, still the distinct Cat Ruka flavour to the work that drew out evocative, political social relations that she is interested in fore-grounding in her work. This work has great potential and I look forward to witnessing further developments in the future.




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