Paper Women

MAU Theatre, Corban Estate, Auckland

18/03/2009 - 18/03/2009

Auckland Fringe 2009

Production Details

A research work by dancer/choreographer Emily Campbell

Artist statement
She served in fact to establish the cannon of beauty, one that all women, for over a hundred years, would seek in desperation to emulate:
Three white things: Skin, teeth and hands.
Three red: Lips, cheeks, nails.
Three long: Body, hair, hands.
Three short: Teeth, ears, feet.
Three narrow: Mouth, waist, toes.
Three small: Nipples, nose, head.

(Galvada, 2006)

A paper woman is a doll, she is a shell; she is a cut-out. She is a photocopy of an idealized perception of reality. A study in contradiction; oscillating between extremities as she seeks to be everything to everyone. Her truth fading so slowly and with such regularity that it goes unnoticed to all and she forgets who and what she is. Knowing only – that it was once, and still should be, something more than this.
Emily Campbell
School of Turbulence  

Dancers charge the space with compelling energy and pathos in elegant fashion

Review by Natalie Dowd 19th Mar 2009

Dancer/ choreographer Emily Campbell is a recent graduate of Unitec. Paper Women was developed following the success of her graduate showcase piece: Three things white: Skin, teeth, hands with support from First Flight: Youth Contemporary Dance and MAUforum. Campbell’s work is the culmination of a research project and inspired by feminist writer Naomi Woolf, Elizabeth Wurtzell, and visual artist Vanessa Beecroft.

Silence. Darkness. A single chair. Five dancers in minimalist black short singlet tops reminiscent of 1920’s bathing costumes accentuating white limbs. 

Paper Women begins slowly, with a sustained sequence of duet Livia MacPhedran in her red wig and Lydia Zanetti with shaved head walking, giving impetus to the rolling forms in subdued light. Emily Campbell, Camille Boyte and Anna Flaherty in their page-boy black wigs look the perfect paper dolls, so similar are they in size and stature.

Though perhaps a little long, the entrance develops tension and expectation as the duet ‘set the stage’ creating an enclosure, a page on which the dance is performed, with  forms of Campbell, Boyte and Flaherty cutting the space as they  roll to stillness, one arm extended one arm forward…a half cross.

Vulnerability and exposure are words that come to mind in the opening duet and at its conclusion Zanetti and MacPhedran morph into sculptural stillness on the chair, with their knees appearing to create a metaphorical third person, making it not unlike a Pieta icon. Absolutely touching and surreal.

The nakedly emotional voice of Damien Rice bursting into the space is the perfect accompaniment to my favourite part of the piece. Rice’s beckoning cry heralds the awakening of the trio which is a superb piece of choreography. Exquisite and intense motifs with excellent phrasing makes this trio a real highlight with Rice’s panoramic melancholy soaring over unison phrases that are personal and almost painfully beautiful. The arms flinging open and shut to slap across the chest seemed to convey is this really my body? who am I? am I real?

The beginning of the brief partnering section appears to be not quite as confident in its execution; I was not sure if the feeling of uncertainty is a deliberate intent here, but as the passing of each other follows the sense of paper dolls both linking and unfolding is evident.

Feet walking on hands add to the raw sense of unease and agonising torture that women undergo with the relentless pressure that is heaped on them by self and society – the "idealized perception of reality"

The tension and release continues in the ensuing duets with the overlay of Flaherty’s bell-like voice inserting parts of the quote by Anna Galvada*: "teeth….nipples… toes… waist… hands" … edgy angled movements creating an atmosphere of discomfiture. The paper women with arms sometimes flailing overhead, teetering on demi pointe as if looking over the precipice of self examination with the quote repeating: "She served in fact to establish the cannon of beauty, one that all women, for over a hundred years, would seek in desperation to emulate."

Then over as it had began, the dancers slowly walking, rolling, but leaving behind the revolving manikin-like figure of Anna Flaherty on the chair.

Campbell and her dancers manage to charge the space with compelling energy and pathos in elegant fashion. The minimalist set, costume and lighting, plus uncomfortable sound score of electrical distortion all help create a raw, stripped and awkward yet beautiful aesthetic.

Slow sustained movement that truly captivates is one of the most difficult things to achieve in dance, but Campbell’s risks for the most part pay off. She demonstrates her insight and ability to extract the subtleties of relevant subject matter in a work that belies her age and freshness in the contemporary dance scene.

I look forward to seeing further development and work from this rising artist. More please.
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*[This was inadvertently written as ‘Ava Gardner’ in the original copy: apologies for the error (and for the misspelling of Boyte, now corrected) – ED]


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