MANTRA

Little Andromeda, corner of Gloucester St and Colombo St, Christchurch

13/11/2019 - 13/11/2019

Production Details



Mantra is an exploration of life, love and loss created by choreographer Fleur de Thier and Artist Simon van der  Sluijs.
Professional dancers Aleasha Seaward and Mariafelix Fuenzalida bring to life two life sized puppets in a hauntingly poetic manner.
The fusion of adult puppetry and contemporary dance lends to an original and innovative new work. The challenge of the dancer being the puppeteer opens new avenues for movement for both dancer and puppet. This is a true collaboration between artists and different mediums.

Hauntingly beautiful, mesmerising and mind shifting.

Not recommended for young children

The season starts st Lyttelton Art Factory 25-26 Oct and then presents in the Little Andromeda Festival 13 November.

Bookings: Lyttleton Arts Factory: https://nz.patronbase.com/_TheLoons/Productions/1916/Performances

Bookings: Little Andromeda festival :  https://www.iticket.co.nz/events/2019/nov/la-mantra


Lighting design Sean James.

Poetry narration Tabatha Killick


Puppetry , Performance installation , Dance-theatre , Dance , Contemporary dance ,


1 hour

Doesn’t so much transcend emotions as unsettle them

Review by Fiona S Giles 14th Nov 2019

Mantra bills itself as a poetic meditation on love, life and death for two dancers and two puppets. The programme describes the individuals as trying to find meaning on the journey to make the right choices, while playing with, challenging and exploring their own being and sensuality. As a viewer you certainly find yourself trying to find meaning, though perhaps not in the way creators Fleur de Their and Simon van der Sluijs anticipate.

The stage is set with a sparse landscape of trees and branches, plus a back wall cleverly designed and lit to look like a rock face. Spoken words pervade the air, speaking of love, of bodies, of souls. The words fade. A dancer emerges. She bears the weight of some branches with slow, deliberate steps.

A lifesize puppet enters, rolled onstage by a second dancer. With ghostly white skin, long, lank hair, oversized hands, and wearing white accented with blood red, it is an unsettling creation. Dancer and puppet perform an intriguing pas-de-deux, hesitantly approaching, embracing, parting. Next a second puppet appears. The foursome embrace, come apart, embrace again, with skilful manipulation that renders the puppet heads nicely expressive.

The two dancers, Aleisha Seaward and Mariafelix Fuenzalida, manipulate their puppets and themselves to explore a relationship dynamic: what it is to be alone, to be with someone, to be in a group. At certain points I see a mother-daughter relationship: the puppets gradually spend less time with their dancers, who develop independence. At other times I can see a couple relationship: they embrace closely, their hands move reverentially across each other. At yet other moments I feel the puppets are representative of the masks we wear to hide our true selves from others. This is particularly noticeable when the two dancers hold only the puppet heads, hiding their expressive faces. 

Long pauses in the action are overlaid with poetical words and lyrics from songs, spoken by both male and female voices. The music is a mixed bag, with no apparent thread pulling the disparate styles together. Heavy breathing is a common motif.

The puppet on wheels is encumbered with a bamboo structure on its shoulders, topped with a cloud. At one point one of the dancers wears the contraption, exploring its possibilities and limitations. Later the dancers wear the cloud like a hat for two. The meaning of the cloud tower is left unclear, perhaps for the audience to insert their own answers.

Throughout, De Their’s choreography explores balance and counterbalance, togetherness and separation, with slow and subtle movements. It is grounded, replete with deep knee bends and copious swaying. None of it is particularly inspired. Seaward and Fuenzalida’s skills remain underutilised throughout. When the duo finally dance together, unencumbered by puppets or frames, they seem to burst with pent-up expression – as if in unconscious acknowledgement, the choreography here is more dynamic, more vital. It tends towards suspension and dropping of weight, which blends well with the creative directors’ themes of love, life and death.

Mantra plays as more experimental theatre-piece than dance. But it lacks guts. Both dancers and puppets are underutilised in this meandering odyssey. It also raises more questions than it addresses, leaving the audience unfulfilled. This poetical meditation doesn’t so much transcend emotions as unsettle them. 

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Slow moving tableaux

Review by Dr Ian Lochhead 26th Oct 2019

Mantra is described by its makers as a ‘poetic meditation on love, life and death for two dancers and two puppets’.  The word ‘mantra’, with its derivation from the Hindu Vedas, ritualistic hymns and incantations also provides a clue to the character and overall mood of the work.  Mantra is performed on a stage that is bare apart from a row of skeletal branches set into the floor, one of which, for reasons never explained, supports a wreath of twigs.  The work is a slow moving, almost ritualistic sequence of tableaux in which the two dancers perform alone, together, and in combination with the two puppets.  These are the creations of Simon van der Sluijs and are contrasting in size and form.  The first to enter, propelled by a dancer who is largely obscured by the height of the puppet and its white drapes, seems to glide as if by itself.  Its face is a white mask fixed in a doleful expression, the hands flesh coloured but with bright red fingertips, as if they have been dipped in blood.  Floating above the puppet’s head is a fluffy white ‘cloud’, supported by a fragile framework of bamboo.  While the exact meaning of this enigmatic device is unclear, it suggests the personalised weather that hovers above the characters in cartoon strips as indicators of mood.  Once removed from the puppet’s shoulders, it is placed to one side of the stage where it remains on view throughout the performance.  The puppet’s head and arms are manipulated from behind but as this section evolves. the interaction of dancer and puppet becomes more involved to the extent that it no longer remains certain which of the two figures is generating the movement, the puppet seemingly taking on a life of its own.  There is a hint of the Pygmalion myth here although this is not developed.

The second of the two puppets, a leg-less juvenile, is supported by the second dancer to whom it is attached at the knees so that the two figures move in tandem although, unlike a normal dance partnership, the puppet faces forward.  The potential for synchronous movement is thus increased and the opportunity for both puppets to interact in tandem is developed.  However the possibilities for the evolving interactions of all four figures on stage is never fully exploited and as the work progresses the puppets become disembodied, reduced to mere heads held by the two live performers. 

A text, included in the programme, spoken in voiceover both before and after the performance and included on the promotional flyer where it is inscribed on the back of a figure embraced by the taller puppet, provides a further signal of the work’s intentions: “As I move my body I move my soul into your body”.  The transmission of feelings from one individual to another is the very essence of human behaviour but this could equally be seen as a metaphor for the art of dance itself, in which the compact between dancers and audience results in the transmission of sensations and emotions from one to the other. 

Aleisha Seaward and Mariafelix Fuenzalida confront the dual challenges of performing as dancers and as puppeteers with assurance, and the hazards of working with inanimate co-performers, whose baleful expressions have a tendency to dominate the stage, are skilfully surmounted.  The sombre mood of Mantra is enhanced by the subdued lighting and the accompanying soundscape made up of a mix of electronic and instrumental sounds, spoken words and speechless vocalisations, and snatches of music, culminating in the Bach aria that accompanies the final moments of the piece.  As the movements of the opening ritual are repeated in reverse and the dancers lift the ‘cloud’ and traverse the stage while sheltering beneath it, the tall puppet stands centre stage cradling the head of the other in its hands.  Bright red tears project like thorns from the puppet’s lifeless eyes in a way that evokes the emotionalism of the more macabre religious effigies used to illustrate the Christian passion story. 

The audience which packed the Lyttelton Arts Factory responded warmly to the work but were left somewhat bemused, a little unsure whether Mantra had actually ended or if there was still more to come.  In reality there was nowhere else to go but out into the cool night air to ponder what we had seen and to make of it what we could.

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A moving meditation on connectedness

Review by Kerri Fitzgerald 26th Oct 2019

From the creative minds of Fleur de Thier and Simon van der Sluijs comes Mantra, descibed as a “poetic meditation on love, life and death for two dancers and two puppets”. Set to an original and evocative soundscape which mixes musical genres, spoken words and breath, this piece unravels like a moving meditation. A mantra is a sacred sound (or phrase) which is believed to have spiritual powers and often their meanings may encompass ideas about the human longing for love, peace, knowledge and truth. Mantra delicately entices viewers to consider our interconnectedness and to examine how we try to make meaning of the world through our relationships.

Bleak trees form a background in a sparse landscape in which the two dancers manipulate large, beautifully crafted puppets. Their facial features can appear childlike, then at times the figures attain a spiritual presence, and they can also appear almost grotesque. There are elements of Butoh. At times the roles of the dancers/ puppeteers and the actual larger-than-life puppets become blurred; each has an individual character. The four figures pulse and flow; they entwine, pull apart, search and yearn for each other; but all the while they are intimately connected.

The first statuesque pair involves a stand-alone puppet whose limbs are manipulated and manoeuvred creating stark, sculptured shapes. A mysterious cloud hovers above the puppet’s head as he/she searches for love.The head movements of this puppet add enchanting nuances to his/her lonely presence. The second pair are physically connected with the puppet attached to, and emerging out of the dancer’s body. This puppet truly has a life of her own and is mesmerising to watch in the haunting dance that unfolds. She stretches, billows, strokes and cradles the other. Alone and together these four figures explore the angst and confusion that is the human condition.

Inevitably Mantra moves towards the agony of loss, and the final scene of one puppet cradling the other is powerful and evocative. The two dancers depart leaving the puppets at centre stage; they move onwards carrying the ‘cloud’ with them. Are they destined to carry this shadow of loneliness with them forever?

Dancers Aleisha Seaward and Mariafelix Feunzalida are technically strong, winsomely fluid and agile; they dance securely and with graceful athleticism. And their commitment to the puppets is unwavering. Fleur de Thier is renowned for utilising an original movement vocabulary and as the pas de deux unfolds there are many moments that surprise, with phrases and motifs that become ‘dance mantras’. This work looks deceptively easy but the complexity of choreographing two dancers working with two puppets adds an extra layer which de Thier grasps with her usual artistic alacrity. The effect is stunning and the flow is breathtaking.

There is certainly a convergence of artistic strengths when the creative minds of artist and creative director, Simon van der Sluijs and choreographer Fleur de Thier are united.

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