How to Make Friends and Still Appear Normal

Community Gallery, 20 Princes St, Dunedin

15/03/2013 - 16/03/2013

NASDA Theatre, E Block, CPIT, Christchurch

28/09/2012 - 30/09/2012

Dunedin Fringe 2013

The Body Festival 2012

Production Details

People are odd and temperamental. And yet a rather attractive bunch. I don’t know about you, but the prospect of actual human interaction feels wonderfully terrifying. 

It’s common knowledge that “three’s a crowd”. Well – there are three of us, and we are going to dance for you. We have been practicing for quite a while and even have degrees from Unitec and everything. It would be sad if we were dancing alone. Please. Don’t let us be alone. Come to our show! You’ll learn important social skills. Like How to Make Friends and Still Appear Normal. 

$17.50,$12.50 concessions from Dash Tickets or phone 0800 327 484 booking fees apply

Performers: Natalie Maria Clark, Sarah Elsworth, Sofia McIntyre
Production Design & Operation Ruby Reihanna-Wilson

60 minutes

A gentle but physical commentary

Review by Hannah Molloy 16th Mar 2013

Bare skin, baring your soul, bearing the weight of big questions – How to make friends and still appear normal had all of these. Natalie Maria Clark’s first full length choreography, presented in Dunedin during the Fringe Festival, was a gentle but physical commentary on the reality of ‘interpersonal relationships” and how to establish and manage them.

Dunedin’s Community Gallery is usually full of wooden toys and art or pottery exhibitions but it lends itself equally well to performance art. The seats were full and people formed and reformed crowds outside the wall of glass fronting the main street, giving a sense of being in a fishbowl and of being part of something that other people wanted to be in on.

How to make friends begins with Sofia McIntyre and Sarah Elsworth appearing quietly on stage, Sarah with a red suitcase and Sofia with a reusable coffee cup, both dressed in black and white (the costumes take me back to my waitressing days). Their movement goes from perfect stillness and composure to an almost nothing swaying before they move away and start rummaging in the suitcase for bright dresses. Natalie addresses the audience, finding her place in the performance, both through her monologue and with her presence on stage. The beginning of her story is unwrapped as she circles her tiny chair and describes her role to the audience – “I’m the dancer … no I’m the choreographer …  no I’m the producer … no I’m here to do some housekeeping”. She lays down the law to the audience – “no drinking, no laughing, no breathing, no improvisation, no pashing your date – or anyone else especially the dancers – and no DANCING!”

This was my favourite part. Sofia and Sarah leap into flashes of bold strong dance, with an Arabic flavoured track propelling them across the stage. It is only a moment long but it is a beautiful, vigorous moment.

Natalie’s an anxious, slightly needy but inherently secure foil to Sofia and Sarah who are austere and exclusive, but in the end less sure of themselves and their connection, drawing the audience through this story of a young woman trying to break into an established relationship without damaging it, to change the dynamics between people so she can be part of their connection, without causing harm to herself or them.  Natalie’s submissive persona is not to be mistaken for weakness as she perseveres under the exclusivity and passive aggressive bullying that keeps her firmly in her place, until she isn’t…

The performance is full of imagery, from Sofia and Sarah’s stark matching black and white outfits and slicked back hair at variance with Natalie’s loose red hair and more flamboyant clothing – she is clearly never going to fit in with her purple jacket! A movement sequence towards the end, when Natalie has had enough of being bossed about and put down, is reminiscent of a Greco-Roman wrestling match, with its physicality and focus on the nearness and oppression of the other. It compares neatly to an earlier sequence full of yogic references, smoother and more fluid, introverted but seeking strength in the surrounding world.

The dance itself is performed against a backdrop of severe white lighting, interspersed with a gentler yellow light and snatches of film, both words and phrases, and clips of Natalie’s early performances, adorably uncertain even then in stripy leotard and tap shoes.  Natalie speaks directly to the audience, playing narrator with brilliant comic timing but also telling a seemingly deeply personal story about insecurity and finding a place in the world – “it’s a big scary world and you’ve only got yourself”.

This statement gave me pause. How is it that our society has raised a generation of men and women who explain self-absorption as a protective barrier against being alone – if I only need me, you can’t hurt me. Why does this generation feel so alone? It’s a grievous mystery to me. Every generation has grown up with insecurity and struggled to find its wa,y but we got there or we’re still looking. People who can create work like this, and give it to others without asking for anything in return, are really brave. It’s big, to put a piece of yourself out into our world for people to see and judge.

I don’t want my children to grow up feeling alone or excluded – or self-absorbed. I hope they’re brave.
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Refreshing work - worth seeing twice!

Review by Kate Sullivan 29th Sep 2012

Two immaculately (not a hair out of place) presented dancers stand on stage and stare down the audience as they take their seats, they could be swaying side to side, but it is so subtle I almost think it might just be my imagination. There are also plenty of objects on the stage that have the audience guessing, curious as to what purpose they serve. The dancers steady themselves holding suitcases stuffed with clothes and what I am most curious about, the tiny yellow children’s play chairs that are placed near the front of the stage.

This is the premiere of How to make friends and still appear normal, a “theatrical dance piece” as outlined in the programme, which is choreographed, produced and directed by Natalie Maria Clark, in collaboration with her dancers Sarah Elsworth and Sofia McIntyre. All three are recent graduates from Unitec and this will be Clark’s first full length work that she has produced and choreographed.

The lights go down and projected onto the back of the screen are typed statements. Statements that are simple, yet thought-provoking, make the audience laugh and are a flash tour through the inner workings of Clark’s mind. As this is happening, you can faintly see the outline of Clark softly moving while the other dancers are taking clothes from the suitcases and getting changed. Already this piece has done a brilliant job of creating suspense and intrigue, none of us know or can even take a guess at what is going to happen next.

Clark takes a seat on one of the small yellow chairs and acknowledges the audience; she introduces herself, having to start over and over again as she introduces herself in different roles “choreographer”, “director”, “producer”, “housekeeper”, which induces more audience laughter. As housekeeper, she continues by giving us a long list of things we as audience members are not allowed to do, “no cell phones, no talking, no laughing… no smoking… no snogging the dancers, especially when they are performing… you can wait until after the show for that”. It is already clear that her wit and comic brilliance is going to be an outstanding feature of this performance.

The piece turns more movement oriented as all three dancers writhe and roll across the floor with a mesmerizingly fluid quality, as if their bones and joints are malleable. The energy changes to create a new dynamic, the dancers scrambling with the suitcases and performing a series of short, sharp, rapid movements. The dancers navigate movement around and with the props which enable the creation of an original and unique movement vocabulary. The children’s chairs are important features that the dancers attach themselves to using interesting bodily connections, and then move on, around and even under these tiny props.

The soundtrack, which is original compositions by Wellington student Emi Pogoni is stunningly compatible with the dance piece. A recipe of click, clacking, pitter, pattering, tapping, ringing and some other more ambient sounds perfectly complements the piece in a way that does not detract from all of the visual information. It is exciting enough to provide some aural satisfaction, but smooth and subtle in all the necessary places so we can really hone in on the visuals.

The audience is in tears of laughter as Clark gives a commentary on advertisements she has found in magazines. Holding an advertisement for ‘Lee’ jeans,  Clark is perplexed as she tells the audience how none of the people in the advertisement are actually wearing jeans. “I don’t get it”, she repeats after nearly every advertisement. Her two dancers sit in front of her, judging her, making suggestions for her to improve her presentation. Suggestions like “a physical challenge… could you stand on your right foot”, have  Clark standing and hopping uncomfortably in front of the audience. The dancers take flight and move to the audience, you can sense that uncomfortable ‘Oh know, what are they doing, are they going to interact with us’, feeling from the audience as the dancer/audience threshold is broken. The dancers sit in the audience and provoke Clark as she moves alone across the stage.

The dancers’ relationships to each other are as intricately explored as the relationships with the props. They create interesting connections with each other and perform lifts with skill and agility. At times they grab each other’s hair or clothes and dance in an almost struggle with each other. For moments there is a cease in the struggle and the dancers relax, moving more gently around each other, but in a flash, the struggle starts again and the dancers throw their limbs and each other through the space. No longer are the dancers immaculate, they are ragged, their hair strewn unmanageably across their faces and their clothes untucked. The piece finishes as Clark pours a bowl of water over her head.

The word ‘refreshing’, echoes around the room like the phrase bless you after a contagious sneeze, at least three other audience members I speak to say that word. I couldn’t agree more. This performance was shocking, unexpected and at times made you feel uncomfortable, but in a way that you secretly enjoyed as it invigorated you and awakened your senses. Clark’s talent across a range of mediums is manifest as she incorporates, voice, theatre, humour, video and movement all into the piece. This was an incredibly well developed and mature concept that incorporated so many deliciously dynamic and diverse elements, especially for somebody so young.  Clark has succeeded in creating a piece that challenges and entertains, that is both funny and technically brilliant. I would not hesitate in seeing this twice. 


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