Embodied Contemplation: a mixed billl
Basement Theatre Studio, Lower Greys Ave, Auckland
08/02/2019 - 08/02/2019
Experimental Dance Week Aotearoa 2019
Embodied contemplation: Josh sound / text work, Josie Archer, It
8-9.30pm: Basement (Studio)
Josh Rutter: Variations on darkness
“A stark configuration of wire fencing, bringing to mind municipal sports fields or refugee blockades stands isolated and mute. It is the work. A man with fast songspeak paces within a clearly delineated square on the floor. Sometimes his movements are agonised, like something wants to escape his flesh. Other times they are quick and erudite. Watching him is like reading a psychedlic comic strip very quickly. He is graphic. His voice is always present, not always coherent. A repeating bass loop plays. He speaks through a microphone. He lets it drop. It is not the work.”
A voice haunts a dark room. It is my voice. I am recalling performances I have seen since moving to Berlin in 2014. Everything I describe really happened. Some of the scenes are partial, incomplete, but none of them are fabricated. As I wrote down my memories I was taken by how much they read like a surreal film or magical-realist novel. I think its worth noting that real life can sound like dreams, and that artists can turn a dark room into poetry.
Work title = It
It leaves you and establishes depth
A picture framed
Story and recognition leak from its pores like sap glaciers
It takes itself in and down in itself and you
And brings slight tension to its gate
It releases into motion
Image: Josie Archer’s performance Search & Destroy, PAWA, 2018.
Evening performances: $25/18 conc or group, other deals for the week or 2 for 1 at Basement Theatreand iticket
Workshops: $15/10 conc
Offsite performances times/places tbc: Free of charge
Talks/discussions: Free of charge
One on one performance: Free of charge
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Performance installation , Performance Art , Multi-discipline , Dance , Contemporary dance ,
and I’m looking back at you: a review/response to Josie, Cat and Josh
Review by Jess Holly Bates 10th Feb 2019
Josie is in what she calls her “pop star” head mic. Later in the show a handheld microphone will fail and Josie will offer it to Josh, he will refuse.
With her TED Talk warmth turned all the way up, Josie communicates with a lovely bareness. She stumbles, but we are with her – this is a direct address to us, and she smiles so we know we’re okay. She’s not hiding in the side light, she’s wants to be clear. She may get nude, she may say ‘fuck’ and we shouldn’t feel worried if we feel like we don’t understand. Josie strikes on something we all know so well. That moment when you’re watching a performance and you feel dumb: “what am I not getting?” As she so generously empathises, the audience anxiety of the first five minutes of any performance is palpable, as people settle in, trying to understand what they are seeing, and why they are seeing it, and attending to that soul-wide question: am I allowed to be here? Or am I – not clever/not edgy/not relevant/not the right gender/not the right shape/not the right cultural programming/not the right thing/not enough. Josie is soothing us. She knows how we feel, so she wants to be sure we understand. She will dance, for five minutes – there will be nothing to ‘get.’ I sit back in my chair. If we are not desperately meaning-making as an audience, I wonder what we are doing. Do we know how to behave.
Josie gave us a framework of understanding, what she called the ten ’s’s’ of her practice. I remember seven of them. slow shudder small sigh stop spiral and sex. My brain has decided the other three are either irrelevant, or has spasmed them out of memory, perhaps they were ‘too hard’. Josie’s movement is always intimate – even before she describes her practice, as we watch her ‘audience warm-up’ we seem to travel into small spaces of her body. It feels relaxing, and inclusive. When she returns to her perch, in front of her laptop prompter, she continues her experiment in transparent communication. This work was to be a ‘walk and talk’ but that was too difficult, so we are watching this. We are watching what happened between a ambitious idea and a pragmatic present. She will now dance and read Philip Gay Marker’s definition of a ‘walk and talk’.
As she dances while reading from her laptop, there is a push of process against content. Philip’s walk and talk was “aiming for clarity” but we can’t really listen while she is moving – the brain starts to scramble. It’s an impressive intersection of things and when she complete’s Philips text and ceases movement, we clap. Someone says “well done.” The head-pat-belly-rub of the thing is that for the audience watching, the task she has just performed is “too hard” – we clap for a different kind of virtuosic; that of the competent multi-tasker.
Josie has the skill to make striking and simple choices seem satisfying. She refuses to disguise her process. What follows is an exquisite description of her style, written for the newly published Te Ao, that she is clearly proud of, with good reason. The words cannot stay long enough in my ears. Her practice: from anus to mouth – travelling through her parasympathetics and lingering as “a durational ache” – it is rare to watch an artist hold space for their own practice so generously. She tells us to “stay close” – then leaves abruptly. There is a long pause. How do we know it is not the end? I suppose we trust the collective nervous system in the room. It feels numb, functional, patient, connected and present. We are not cheated by this instinct. What reappears is what my friend describes as “an egyptian mummy coming to the cabaret” – a tensile white beast made of cloth, like a big foot made entirely from fitted sheets, but with a face at the level of the human groin. It feels serious. We are being watched – the gaze has reversed and we have no choice but to endure this surveillance. This creature is never silly – and the sheet tugs across the head as though made of grim fabric teeth. Just as Josie said we would do, we make our cursory assessment and quickly decide we like it. Josie does not betray our trust by lingering, but leaves us wanting – a momentary comic exit and she is gone. We feel ready to clap now, and we do.
Cat Ruka’s zodiac, a dance film installation, has star quality – not just because it calls to Matariki or brings ancestral celestial maps to the surface – but because it has the razor-sharp cinematography to match. Pops of colour are sparsely selected but abundant, in familiar landscapes they have treated with reverence. We visit goddess on goddess: a living portraiture – activated with the electric intensity of the COVEN vogue performance collective. They wrap the landscape a la Christo and Jean-Claude – and the attention to scale is delicious. This feels like a medieval Oceanic blockbuster – and my brain for a moment feels like I am disappearing into the opening credits of an alternate Netflix universe, one where queer brown bodies dominate the storytelling, not least because the suspense of soundtrack and cutting feels pin-drop perfect.
But just like the holed eyes of Archer’s groin mask, these performers penetrate us – there is a sizzling autonomy that calls down through the lens like an echoey corridor “I see you just like you see me.” In an experimental festival still largely populated by white audiences, white movement vocabularies and white performers, despite obvious effort by the curators to hold diverse communities, this brown agency still resonates as a radical act. As a white viewer myself, I cannot speak to the myriad layers a more culturally embedded eye might be able to unravel here. What I can see is the mastery of fabricating and unveiling the collective mythologies humming under urban communities, creating a seamless weaving of worlds. Black sand meets black tarmac, webbing together a continuous present of divinity – the vā is stretching wide. As the beat leads the narrative arc I can see the archetypes rise – the child/the unknown constellation/the possibility/the gateway. There is a delicious sense of doom and I am left feeling like I have seen the teaser to a thriller – always hungry for the feature length, Cat – ready when you are.
In the final work of the night, Josh Rutter wanders out of the audience, asking for a slumber party – inviting lie-downs, intimacy and school camp. He wants to tell us stories about his four years as an audience member of performances in Berlin. We settle in, the ritual feels ancient and the room feels patient and captivated. His words are carefully chosen, his diction impeccable, his language evocative: “lush white vapour” and “pneumatic bulk” are two phrases that settle into my head. We have only a moment before the feedback starts, as though a giant mozzie is descending on our camp fire. The tech wiggles knobs and shakes his head, Josh is unshakeable – it’s a pleasant falling apart. Josie pitches in with her offer of a rescue, Josh refuses her pop-star sensibilities and goes accapella. As his own voice comes through we hear him better over his gentle party track, with a low thrumming beat and the odd explosive thrust. His preparation feels crystalline, his left hand conducting his use of silence and space – index and thumb pinned together with the confidence of a pre-meditated performance. The sound becomes galactic, it feels like we are travelling through a space game.
The stories blend and pop – every cliche we imagined about german performance art pouring out of him. There is the one about the man swinging his penis until it can swing no longer, a meditation on the EU crisis. There is another about a man eating neon string from a woman’s vagina and vomiting yellow bile on her stomach. Another is about when things get too long. He repeats: ‘Too long’. We have also been here a while, but a campfire story has a tide to it, you can drift in and out – we are all travelling, Josh is taking us on his sexy O.E. – both a storyteller and a tour guide – every place has a site, every site has a story, history is important. We laugh, often. We laugh because we hear the word cock, we laugh because bile is gross, we laugh because it’s not here, we laugh because isn’t the other side of the world funny, we laugh because it is familiar, we laugh because Josh is waiting in a shower for miners and isn’t it absurd what spaces art settles and renovates, what histories it colonises, what stories it lies on top of. “This is a place for monsters” he tells us, and I wonder if he means the horror story uplighting or Berlin. He straps on his MMA gloves and begins to roll them and punch the air. Round and round, with bent knees and tense shoulders. Time passes. More time passes. The repetition shifts my gaze. It is an emotional load. No. It is a washing machine. No. It is a fight. No. We are watching ageing. No. We are watching fire poi. It is a spasm. It is a mania. It is failure. It is kneading dough. No, this is work. This is exertion. This is endurance. He is trying to survive. The movement becomes a welcome and a punch and a whip and a cheer. The soundtrack has shifted to a loop – like a microphone being intensely grazed. The sound doubles down on itself each time. We don’t know when it will end. We feel a bit scared for ourselves, for him. We watch him push through. We wonder if we can. I wonder what ‘too long’ means to Josh Rutter. My nervous system begins to collapse under the weight of the soundscape and I am reduced to the proto-safety of ear plugs. A few moments later, the light fades.
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