The Black Box at St Margaret's College, Christchurch

26/09/2015 - 27/09/2015

The Body Festival 2015

Production Details


“She’s wild! She’s wacky! She is KooKoo the Bird Girl!” Sarah Houbolt is doing something politically dangerous. She is stepping into the chicken-feet shoes of a historical freakshow performer to bring her back from the dead. It is time for the freakshow revolution.

Dangerous Bodies examines the history and politics surrounding Tod Browning’s controversial film ‘Freaks’ (1932) – a love story that was banned for 30 years. In the face of danger, we stand strong in our bodies. Influenced by Mat Fraser and the cast of American Horror Story: Freakshow, Sarah beautifully crafts a quirky circus narrative into a memorable and not to be missed performance.

Artist Sarah Houbolt
Venue The Black Box, St Margaret’s College 12 Winchester Street
Date/Time Sat 26th & Sun 27th September at 2.00pm & 6.00pm
Duration 45 mins
Tickets $15, $10 concession, from Dash Tickets www.dashtickets.co.nz or ph 0800 327 484, booking fees apply

Physical , Integrated dance/mixed ability dance , Family , Dance-theatre , Comedy , Clown , Cirque-aerial-theatre ,

45 mins

Wonderfully satisfying - and challenging

Review by Erin Harrington 27th Sep 2015

In Dangerous Bodies, circus artist Sarah Houbolt situates herself within a genealogy of freak show performers, whose non-normative bodies challenge views about ability and subjectivity.

Through physical theatre, and a fair dose of subversive humour, Houbolt explores of the life and performances of sideshow performer Minnie Woolsey, better known as Koo Koo the Bird Girl, who was a featured performer in Tod Browning’s controversial 1932 film Freaks. Like Woolsey, Houbolt has a rare chromosomal condition, and Houbolt’s performance as (and with) Woolsey explores some of the implications for those who are deemed to live lives and have bodies that don’t conform with a hazily couched and often shifting definition of normativity.

This is a terrific show – intelligent, emotional and witty, and a direct challenge to the audience’s expectations about performance, identity and what it means to look and be looked at. It’s beautifully structured and makes good use of projections, a varied soundscape, and long periods without speech. The inclusion of material from Browning’s film, as well as rather pointed comments about medical definitions of normativity and the control exerted by the medical profession over some of its subjects, highlights the complex web of ideas that work over time to define our bodies, in both subtle and invasive ways.

The piece itself is stripped down, utilising only a few props and costume pieces. Recurring elements, such as the motif of a falling white feather, as well as a recreation of Woolsey’s own chicken costume, are incorporated in a thoughtful manner. The final portion of the piece, in which Houbolt brings circus performance into the present, is a wonderfully satisfying conclusion. My companion and I both find it to be incredibly moving, and she’s ultimately brought to tears.

Houbolt’s show demonstrates the power and liberation of performance: in being in control of your own body, in creating your own family, and in gazing back, fiercely, at the audience. This is a performance that explores, beautifully, the capacities of the body and the self, rather than letting the differently abled body be shaped by restrictive legal, social and medical strictures that mark ‘deviance’ as a negative thing, instead of a marker of the breadth of human experience.



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