BATS Theatre, The Heyday Dome, 1 Kent Tce, Wellington

30/01/2020 - 01/02/2020

Six Degrees Festival 2020

Production Details

Sarah is a brave examination of how people create meaning and fail to create meaning in life.

Inspired by the work of Sarah Kane and Romeo Castellucci, Glenn Ashworth and Eliza Sanders have crafted an irreverent and detailed journey into the tension between aesthetic and ideology driven performance and scenography.

BATS Theatre, The Dome
30 January – 1 February 2020
Full Price $20
Group 6+ $17
Concession Price $15

*Access to The Heyday Dome is via stairs, so please contact the BATS Box Office at least 24 hours in advance if you have accessibility requirements so that appropriate arrangements can be made. Read more about accessibility at BATS.

Theatre , Dance-theatre ,

Bold, brave, intelligent, challenging

Review by Emilie Hope 31st Jan 2020

This year’s Six Degrees Festival opened BATS doors on Thursday 30th to a warm and excitable crowd, largely made up of students whose work was about to premiere, and friends, family and faculty staff who came to support. The first show to be performed as part of the Festival, a collection of works by Victoria University’s MFA Theatre students, is Sarah, written, designed, and directed by Glenn Ashworth.

Sarah is a dance piece like you have never experienced before. The quality and boldness is immediate as soon as you walk into the Heyday Dome. The space is transformed into an arena seating arrangement around an elevated square stage with a floor-to-ceiling reflective-plastic walls. As we take our seats, we enjoy watching our distorted selves reflected back at us.

The plastic square is to characterise the fourth wall, a theatre design that only became popular in the last hundred years or so, and yet has largely dominated our theatre art. Indeed, the physical fourth wall feels alive as the air conditioning and movement of people taking their seats moves the plastic in a way that makes it seem to be breathing. Already, the design is commanding and I feel the show reaches a standard one would see in the arts district of New York City.

The show begins slowly, the lights taking minutes to fade. There are no sudden ends to conversations or shushings as this happens. It is so gentle, enabling us to enter a realm of reflection as the art begins. We know now that this is an introspective show. How much you enjoy the show will depend on how much you are willing to give it. It’s as much about you as it is about the performance. 

Lights come up on our performer: choreographer and co-collaborator, Eliza Sanders, who is lying flat on her back on the raised stage. At first, like poking funny faces at the distorted plastic, there are thoughts about whether or not she can see us. This is a question maintained throughout the show. I can only guess that she could when the lights are on us, as it is for us with her. This continues to question the fourth wall as a concept: can she see us? Is it important that she sees us? Why is it important that she remains in her plastic box?

The dance is simply gorgeous. Sanders is a master of her own body, moving slowly, repeating and building a movement to an extent which would make me sweat, and yet never feeling out of control. There are moments when Sanders reminds me of the great performance artist Marina Ambramović. The nature of the plastic square makes it irrelevant where you are sitting: you can watch both her body and her reflection refracted in the plastic often creating a mini-show of its own, and therefore everyone will see something unique yet united.

Slowness is a key aspect of Sanders’ experience in her discipline. In an age where everything is immediate and on demand, Sarah reminds us that slow is good. What can we learn of slow? Where do your thoughts go if you slow down? Being slow forces us to look at Sanders, look at her body, her movement, how the position shapes her body, how we feel about her body in that position, and what stories and images are conjured by that position. This is dance at its absolute best.

This masterful movement by Sanders is paired with often pressing music; the kind of music that burrows into your ear enough to make you slightly uncomfortable and therefore attentive. The choices of music are stupendous and vary widely, including classical to slight country touches, but all of which seeming to remain serious and focused. Most I don’t recognise, but the one I do is David Bowie’s Blackstar, which begins the show, setting the tone for the remainder of the fifty minutes we were in the space.

The lighting is as exquisite as the set, mixing in seamless ways that are both soft and cutting. It carries different colours at different moments. It shows us Sanders, it shows her us, it cuts us off from her, it wraps around the plastic cube that holds her, it slices her space, it displays the structure keeping the raised stage in place. The lighting is specific and guides our eyes and the show. Always a powerful element in any dance show, the lighting in Sarah is no exception.

As aforementioned, the messages you take from the show depend on what narratives you bring to the Sarah. I am aware of the themes of suicide, depression, and abortion. I see the show very much through a political lens about women’s bodies, but I understand this may not be others interpretations. A moment at the end of the show which absolutely solidifies my lens is when a strip of light cuts onto the floor of the stage. Sanders has revealed her body to us and walks back across the stage but stops abruptly so the light only catches her arm and part of her exposed leg. This movement feels to me like someone moving in their flat, half-naked, and then a neighbour’s light is turned on, making the movement feel illicit.

This feeling of being illicit in one’s own body, as a woman constantly being objectified by her body throughout her life, is one of the strongest that stays with me once the show ends. How dare we be made to feel unlawful in our own bodies by society, by even our own law as it currently stands. How dare we feel inadequate in any way. I thank the show for bringing these feelings to me.

Sarah is bold, brave, intelligent, challenging. It is near perfection. There is at least one transition I find jarring, but it is quickly washed away by all the other smooth moments. Ashworth was wise in choosing Sanders for this collaboration, as Sarah highlights both of their strengths as creatives.

There are many small moments I thoroughly enjoying digesting in the hours after the show. And do take the printed material with you, as one is a small collection of poems written by the two collaborators. Come in with as few preconceptions as possible and let yourself be transported.

Sarah is simply a must-see. 


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