Christchurch Town Hall, Christchurch

27/11/2021 - 28/11/2021

Tiny Fest

Production Details

‘Extanz Volume I: An Epic on Power’ is a gritty dive into the underworld of dance. The ugly, destructive, and problematic power structures that keep dancers sick and are rotting the field from the inside-out.

Extanz is a raging cry from the depths of the dance world, collated from hundreds of interviews with dancers; This first solo iteration will leave you shaken to the core and wondering if you’ll ever see dance in the same way!

Created by Katrina Bastin with Olivia McGregor and Ella Rerekura 

Performance Art , Experimental dance , Dance-theatre , Dance ,

60 Mins

Complex weaving of language

Review by Sara Cowdell 12th Dec 2021

EXTANZ VOLUME 1: AN EPIC ON POWER happened as part of the experimental performance festival Tiny Fest in Christchurch. The work was categorised into five parts playing on themes of the interrelationship between power, sex, exchange of labour, the institution of dance, and communication. It was another work, in a long series of performances across the world that artists had to re-imagine due to covid-19, working in new ways, old ways, challenging ways, and bringing to the forefront a new age of live performance integrating technology in conversation with the physical body. 

Within the first ten minutes we are introduced to the multiple languages that this work will be speaking to us in – in the flesh mediated through the body of Olivia McGregor (I’m immediately drawn to the attire that she is wearing – a vintage fitness chic look with a touch of eroticism in the form of a slim black harness), by the giant screen looming above us with pre-recorded video footage (Katrina and Ella), and ambiguous text from a source we are not privy to. Katrina Bastin (the creator and choreographer of the piece) is faceless in a pink gimp suit on the screen appearing as a sort of abstract dominatrix figure, while, in contrast, Ella Rerekura is on screen communicating to us in sign language. (Note: I irrationally hate the pink gimp suit, the whole character, the fo-S&M innuendo, everything about it. Maybe it’s just for aesthetic reasons, or maybe because I can never really figure out what this character has to say that’s meaningful other than an empty symbol for domination.) 

Besides sign language, there is a mixture of spoken English, German songs, contemporary dance, text, sounds, sporadic whistling (which reminds me of a form of morse code/high school P.E class). All of these conversations cross over/under/on top of/underneath/blur together to create a well-executed dialogue between languages where there is always something missing. The mixing of ‘mediums of communication’ made me think that we rely too heavily on the idea of ‘direct translations’ when so much is missed in between. When we speak about language we often mean spoken language, but dance and art are also languages that can be immediately intuited, as well as unfold over time to be fully understood in all of its nuances.

Throughout the work Ella would sporadically show up on the screen using sign language and I spent the whole performance trying to figure out what exactly she was expressing, and I never figured it out. It’s not often as an English speaker that you are excluded from communication, and there is an inherent privilege in that. How often do we see sign language without translation? Rarely, if ever. There is value in not always being privy to knowing or understanding everything. There is something valuable in the attempt to understand, or in surrendering into not knowing because some things cannot be directly translated. The theme of miscommunication also bled into the relationship between the video and the performance, and perhaps mimicked the work’s process of creation. Another success of this work was establishing the fraught nature between what is live and what is pre-recorded. It thoughtfully captured the coldness of a screen and the obvious lack of somatic relationality present between physical and internet spaces. 

Alongside this cross language communication, there was a lot of dancing and repetitive movements. As an audience member, I found it invigorating as I always have enjoyed the athleticism and discipline you see when watching regimented choreography. The best part of the show, for me, was Olivia stripping down to her sporty G-string to ‘be like a worm’ and move in various, awkward, and difficult ways across the floor while German metal played loudly in the background. During this time, on the screen above text instructions appeared (which I thought never quite matched up to what Olivia was doing and exemplified the aspect of miscommunication in the work that I was enjoying). This scene succeeded in making the audience complicit in the voyeuristic investment in the action of the body. I think on some level we deny our own perversion and desire to observe bodies, and especially nude bodies, doing intriguing, weird or compelling things. It’s really one of the best things about live art. I thought simultaneously I could watch this human-cum-worm for a much longer time and how I’d love to try to be this worm also. 

The overall commentary on desire, power, work, and the dance industry as a whole felt a bit lost on me. Some of the statements, such as ‘this is going to be gruelling’ or in its title ‘AN EPIC ON POWER,’ felt large and these sentiments loomed without always being conceptually well-rounded or delved into. Perhaps, for me, the work was trying to do too much. It’s hard to express the exact reasons a highly experimental work hits home or doesn’t, as these kinds of works don’t function in linear or well-known formulas. Working with multiple subjectivities, mediums and concepts is a hard one to nail, and I think this work could do well to go through a second development phase to be reperformed at F.O.L.A in March 2022. Some of the sentiments felt overstated and under-delivered, and the five part structure confused me, without hard or blurry enough boundaries to warrant the chapter like structure. In regards to the notion about the work being “gruelling,” this felt like an obvious point of contention for me. I think the work needs to decide whether it wants to push the boat out on this and get the performer to truly – passionately – suffer, or subvert this notion by exerting overt softness, or alternatively, change the title. 

What this work did the best was create a dynamic and poignant conversation between video and live performance and the gap between language(s). I also thought the sound was great – the interplay between silence, whistling, and music was striking. This complex weaving of language is what stood out for me and the interplay between high intensity music, whistling, and silence was potent. I know a lot of people in the audience loved the performance and that became clear to me after the show when I heard many passing statements of wonder, awe and appreciation. I think it resonated with people because of the last sentiment: a ‘love letter to dance’. This part of the work instantly gave the audience access to perceive the performance in a new light and engage in a process of self-reflection. It challenged us to consider: what is my drive for creation and destruction, and why do they often feel so interlinked? In a post-covid world our ability to be empathetic to what is unsaid and what is misunderstood feels more important than ever. This work has begun a dialogue into the complex, often unsaid dynamics of creative production. It gave me the gift of reimagining what a life of live art practise could and should be, what boundaries are worth pushing and which are worth respecting.


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