Bathing with Elephants and Other Exotic Reveries

Civic Theatre, cnr of Queen Street & Wellesley Street West, Auckland

26/01/2012 - 28/01/2012

Production Details



Nisha Madhan                    Producer/Publicist
Jeff Henderson                   Stage Manager
Stephen Bain                      Host/Concept and Design Collaborator

Sam Hamilton - Our Grandfather was the Jaguar

Genevieve McClean - The Girls (with Sally Stockwell, Tahi Map-Borren, Tessa Mitchell, Anna Forsythe, Alison Everett, and Rose)

Tsubasa Kawamoto – Reflection

John Bell - Taboo Boob (with Nigel Gavin)

Bronwyn Bent - Buffalaxed! (Singer: Dharmesh Parikh)

Drew McMillan - Jungle Book (with John Bell and Kristian Larsen

Derek Tearne - Willi pai sa sung (with Phil Dadson and The Elephant) 

Geoff Gilson – The Leviathing (with Fabio Vilani)

Kim Newall – Sticky Creatures

 This event is part of the STAMP arts development programme.  


2 hours

An astounding Journey into the unknown

Review by James Wenley 07th Feb 2012

The Civic Main stage is dark, waiting for its first performance of the year. But the building is alive – are to be member. The show is Bathing with Elephants and other exotic reveries, with much for the intrepid audience member to encounter.

Bathing with Elephants is a collaboration between Vitamin S, Co-Lab and STAMP at THE EDGE. Going in, I could rely only on the beguiling press material describing it as a “cross-bred exotic performance… mixing genre and technology like a kitchen-whizz in a Bombay spice shop”.  The project moves through the smaller spaces within the Civic complex – like the Taj Mahal, Safari, and Wintergarden rooms – using the spaces as inspiration for a series of constantly surprising work that belies easy categorisation. We’re taken on a wholly unique, and bizarre, tour of the Civic. [More


Make a comment

A mysterious and exotic ensemble of works

Review by Alexa Wilson 28th Jan 2012

Disclaimer:  I’m a performance artist and practitioner/thinker asked to write about this event due to an ill reviewer. So I am  sharing some of my experiences, and I want to be supportive, I’d like to be honest about that.

Billed as “guided by new technologies and unstoppable desire for certainty” the first thing I can say with a degree of certainty is that this show is not a dance show, nor a theatre show —  so why is it being written about on Theatreview? Of course, it’s because the barriers between art forms are progressively being broken down and have been for some time:  “performance” is “performance”, and here in Auckland we have a lot of that going on.

Tonight’s event is hosted by Vitamin S, a collective of (mostly) musicians with a focus on improvisation,  in collaboration with the Edge’s STAMP programme.

What a GREAT idea to do an event sponsored by Stamp in the Mighty Civic! Long overdue.  The space is super incredible and this baby was born from some primo intentions. Stamp is doing some great work, and bridging underground and emerging artists with corporate spaces and bigger audiences is a  terrific idea.

The feeling is exotic, yup. The Civic was built in an era of exoticism, and is decorated with golden elephants and an Indian temple feeling despite being constucted during an age of depression and war. The artists for this evening present their works  in a variety of nooks and crannies, small and large rooms the public seldom enters. The audience is split into groups and wordlessly led on a labyrinthine trajectory by Stephen Bain and Nisha Madhan dressed in generically exotic Middle Eastern-flavoured costumes.  

What is the framework for the evening? A cocktail of ideas around far away places, self consciously exotic or otherwise, including new technologies which involve triggers, masks and weirdness, and playful improvisation.

I’m taken with the ‘triangle’ symbol drawn on my hand, defining my group. We go to the Taj Mahal room first, on a loop past two female singers in hidden parts of the garish and glamourous building, first Erica Strata in a black dress and then Indra in a red dress. Their beautiful voices singing operatically in the dark evoke images of past times, faded memories, a slightly Lynchian beautiful darkness from a former Civic culture. I kinda like these images, fleeting is hot. We are  on a tour.

Reflections by Tsubasa Kawamoto is presented in the Taj Mahal Room — a small  conference room, a formal setting. On screen, a meditative hypnotic projection of changing configurations of coloured lines  accompanied by sound –  simple and beautiful. This is followed by Buffalaxed by Bronwyn Bent,  presentred by singer Dharmesh Parikh, an  interactive event. He asks for someone to write on a laptop the lyrics as he sings. That someone was me. I later got asked how I was ‘allowed’ to review and be interactive to which I loled quite naturally. Interactive is my middle name. He sang a Bollywood classic ‘Why this?’ which I didn’t know which was half english half hindu? And of course being a touch typer I could add my own thoughts in like ‘I’m late, deaf and slow’.. I got the lyrics wrong, which was of course, funny and the point. Jungle Book by Andrew McMillan (Drew!) with Kristian Larsen on marimba and John Bell on  tea set wired for sound is a sweet as Vitamin S touch of acoustic improvisation, short and sweet and awesomely minimal.  

In the Safari Room The Girls by Genevieve McLean has us peeking through small windows voyeuristically at a bunch of cabaret dancers in the mundane space of ‘about to go on stage’,  reversing the notion of what it is to perform and what is really interesting to watch. These are largely older women, well older than 20s anyway, which is also a nice reversal of the idea of  naturally objectifying young flesh as this set up would have us doing, or would have had us doing in the past, ‘back in the good old days’ (and even now ‘naturally’/culturally). They are followed by Kim Newall’s installation Sticky Creatures –  abstract animations  projected onto bird and animal-shaped sculptured cardboard boxes – visually  effective in the space and acompanied by sounds of making the cardboard  structures including taping. Next,  Wili Pai Sa Sunge (something little that is of work) by Derek Tearne with Phil Dadson –  an eccentric and dynamic bracket of improvised music inspired by Derek’s long ago African trip.  A slide show is projected while they create their music on a very large wooden elephant skeleton with instruments built in (sculptured by Derek).

In the change between rooms we get to experience improvised music by Taboo Boob – John Bell & Nigel Gavin in ‘The Pit’ space on the way past and the groups merge toward the end to create one audience who are led down to the Wintergarden underneath the Civic stage.

The Wintergarden has become a dark room filled with smoke-machine smoke –  eerie and exciting. One older woman collapses, either due to the smoke or the inability to see … obviously it is intended to be a slightly challenging event to audience members. The audience tries to find ways to be comfortable. Enter Geoff Gilson and Flavio Vlliiani from the depths of the dark for Leviathing, a dance/theatre work in which they flail in hilarious costumes hard to make out in the dark – only lit by their own head lamps? Which is super effective. Ok we’re in the ocean now, choice! It’s a… squid and… a … whale? Can’t quite see, like that. Creatures of the deep, looming toward us like a B-grade movie or kids fantasy film.  There’s a grand piano and a small pool and a tall pole– and a duet in which a speech about Leviathans precedes a male squid pole dance to piano music and a struggle to its death into another pool by the squid. Funny. Silly, fun, liking the refs to masculinity and inadvertently to sexuality in this piece.

Then we sit down in chairs suddenly lit, and I become aware of how effectively light has been used to manipulate and direct us, as it always is in theatre. K its time for Sam Hamilton. I can tell from the sounds of Amazon wild life samples (he’s spent time there on a residency). His work unfolds before us as the most developed, fertile and original of the evening and the finale. There’s filmic light projections onto a fake stand up screen in which he interviews a ‘ghost’ of the past about the breakdown and control of the El Salvadoran ecosystem by humanity. The ‘ghost’ in a white sheet whose head pops through the screen, reads out dryly a lot of info regarding this politics while Sam roller-paints white onto the screen to reveal the projections of human forms.

Accompanying the different stages of the work, which is largely evocative and transforms from Sam talking to the audience in a very practical down to earth way, to entirely transcendent and mysterious incredible music composed by him. The sound  gets louder and louder, so that as the ‘ghost’ becomes more revealed and different light shades of film (blue and red) projected and shapes cut out from the screen create abstract (old skool experimental film) tactile patterns, and it turns into a spinning dervish dance almost evoking a Sufi. We are transported from a man made reality into something very creative and fertile, from the manmade and fake to the tactile, much like an eco system in its rawest state..  totally bursting with raw creative energy. It’s totally mesmerising, intriguing and very shamanic.

As a whole, this collective of artists were supported by Stamp to create a mysterious and ‘exotic’ ensemble of works referencing or deconstructing the history of the Civic and its exoticisation of foreign lands, cultures, musics,  or transporting  us through technologies and imagery to strange and transcendent places which are quite literally ‘out there’. I was sold. It was beautiful and interesting. 

My only criticism would be that  there needed to be more time spent in the space to  fulfil the works more completely.  That depends, I presume, on the availability of money and time, and meeting  the challenges of  programming. This is a note to the sponsors more than anything.


For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News.


Make a comment

Wellingon City Council
Aotearoa Gaming Trust
Creative NZ
Auckland City Council