24/02/2012 - 25/02/2012
Obsession with celebrity and self is a global industry. Show Pony is a satirical look at the world of talk show television, celebrity ‘cult’ culture and public therapy through the lens of avant-garde
This theatrical premiere is a self-referential work created by Nisha Madhan – former Shortland Street favourite Shanti and Alexa Wilson – a multi award-winning experimental choreographer, based on their own public roles within performance in New Zealand.
Alexa Wilson, recently returned from Berlin, is a NZ choreographer, writer, performance and video artist with over 10 years experience in performance. She has been awarded numerous times for works including Weg: A-Way (Auckland Fringe 2011, four awards), and Magic Box (Best New Work: Emerging Contemporary Choreographer, NZ Listener).
“I’m a choreographer. I like to get naked a lot and wield weapons it’s true. The body is my art, inseparable from the voice. Together, we make magic happen.” Alexa Wilson
“The way Alexa Wilson sees it, the outer edges of her art form are there to be stepped over… or subverted…” The Listener
Nisha Madhan has worked professionally as an actress, musician and producer since 2003. She is most famously known for being the first Indian actress to land a core cast role onShortland Street which lasted three years. Her work ranges from commercial television to experimental music, burlesque and theatre.
“I like there to be no doubt in our minds (performers and audience) that this is not real, it’s all a lie.” Nisha Madhan
“Madhan brings a winning naivety…” NZ Herald
6.30pm Friday 24 – Saturday 25 February
The SHOW PONY effect
Review by Christina Houghton 29th Feb 2012
Here we begin in anticipation as part of a constructed studio audience in the lower level of the Aotea centre. Two women (well known in the Auckland performance realm) within the guise of guest show hosts, complete with low couches, a not so ordinary pot plant and matching outfits (at least in colour) open the stage for a dose of theatrics mixed with reality or is it the other way around?
One to one Tarot card readings by Alexa Wilson on audience members as people file in sets a scene of a particular nature that, as the evening unfolds, can be described as an exploration into the complexities of the Show Pony effect negotiated through the hilarious self critique of two woman on one stage. Originally devised with the intention to show at the Comedy fest and then re- diverted along the way towards the New Performance Festival this collaboration provided and evening of irony, clichés and subversive comments on both representational constructs of television, the body and the psycho-somatic new age.
Our attention is grabbed in the first moment when Alexa Wilson is extravagantly introduced by Nisha Madhan as ‘herself ‘ listing all her accomplishments and awards from the previous years, outrageous innovative performance artist, winning best Fringe act 2011 and so on, while she holds up an ‘APPLAUSE’ sign and we follow our instruction enthusiastically. As she careers down the winding staircase where we previously entered, soaking up the attention in deadpan glamorous kind of way thanking the audience. They then sensually embody the excitement of it all, in a posturing frontal ‘dance off’ evolving into exuberant head banging. After a pause we all take a breath and it all then takes a rewind as Alexa then introduces Nisha in a similar manner as previous Shortland Street star, theatre/artist de-constructing theatre boundaries and so on. Nisha Madhan who glides down the stairs in addressing her audience in an overexcited orgasmic manner as a woman indulging in her own moment of glory. The introductions repeat in the same manner again and again to audience instructions of LAUGH and YAWN, Alexa and Nisha run up and down the stairs from wings to microphone and the descriptions of each other become more twisted and fabricated and slightly tragic Alexa Wilson of Wilson Carparking?, the envy of Marina Abravomic; and Nisha Maden porn bunny, producer and nice smelling?
They appear to be both upping and insulting each other in an undermining way to gain the adoration of the crowd before them, all with a smile on the face. At the same time these statements reveal the contradiction between who we want to be and the constant fluctuation between confidence and doubt when one puts oneself in front of an audience. It becomes apparent that this performance is going to be based on a fair amount of self-revealing and critical analysis from both these performers.
The dancing between the introductions suitably degrades in a similar manner in response to the cue cards that appear to be more like theatre sports cards describing the scene SEXY DANCE to sliding over the couch and touching things lavishly. Alexa performing her skilled chaotic writhing on the floor with skirt flashing while Nisha bends over the couch shaking her behind to an indescribable booty pop song while lip synching. We get the feeling that we are the ones about to be manipulated this evening in this attention grabbing contest.
They then address each other and as the interview begins there once again is mentioned a challenging factor that they both accidently wore RED to the same show, yet referring to each other as sisters in a complementary way. Alexa is revealing a great deal about her concepts of the naked body in a personal nature familiar from her approaches her own solo work and her use of nudity, while Nisha appears to be moving through her states of personalities like a type of method acting drawing on the many layers of her self that she might draw upon in her practice in performance as an actor. Here we see threads of two very different practices of Wilson (dance/performance art) and Madhan (theatre) carefully meeting at the space in between where one is neither and either is both. Both can be described in the past as deconstructing their origins and looking for new places of which this collaboration pushes to further places.
Sign holding by an audience participant instructing us to BOO, LAUGH and MEXICAN WAVE at inappropriate moments adds to the tragedy as the artists reveal their personal anecdotes, while getting rid of the sign-holder when she appears to upstage the hosts. It is discussed with us (the audience) in an explicit way that most of the people in the room have probably seen Alexa naked (in her previous works) half the people raise their hands in embarrassment at the way the question is asked so blazenly. The interview directs itself towards Alexa’s previous work Rainbow Warrior and it is decided that a re-enactment of the work is necessary by Nisha. In this particular piece there is nudity and body paint involved behind a strong plastic shield and an angry crowd that throws rubbish at a plastic sheet. However in this re-enactment we get the P.G . version with clothes and bubble wrap (still with awesome giving birth screaming from Alexa and the encompassing sound track of war planes overhead) much to the regretful disappointment of Nisha, which she over-indulges in a dramatic way by calling the unsympathetic Help Centre. We as the audience are left uncertain as to whether we preferred the original or the clothed version. Stirring up our own fears or desires to see the performer ‘get her gear off’ the anticipation increases when we are then invited to become the naked participant in the next re-enactment. This is all very interesting when sitting in front of Alexa who is courageous enough to do this in her live work. Leaving us with the questions are we disrespecting her or not, are we eager to get up and show her up with our courageousness. Unfortunately there are no volunteers this evening, I however must admit I did contemplate it for a split second. The format of the show at this point provided the perfect situation to address many of our own preconceptions of the body both in the media and also images created through art.
The piece further descends to Nisha and Alexa once again addressing the audience, speaking in loud voices over each other each in fantastic self indulgent monologues. Nisha describes how she wants to write her biography and Alexa presents philosophical research and self help books, which she throws over her shoulder. The dialogue melds together until one doesn’t know who is talking about what, but it does include meditation, and yoga. All topics are covered, only in the way that women will do when imagining their own life story.
Like all good love stories, as this may turn out to be, there is of course a moment where tears are required, including the obvious use of bottled tears in a theatrical fake moment, after lip synching Everlasting Love in a slow melodic way. The duet take a break for legs up wall, and a spot of texting, and then collapse on the floor. Moving onto a session of thanking the sponsers, yoga, meditation and balloon manisfestations, we attempt to positively imagine money for one audience member while hitting balloons, and we are touched when Alexa thanks her mum who is watching, reminding us that not all of this is theatrics.
The piece now takes a more twisted turn as interruptions turn to manipulations. First Nisha standing at the microphone while Alexa gives topics for presenting – such as tell a bad joke, roar, be insulting like a puppet with no free mind. While the tree which has actually been speaking to Alexa translates, through Nisha, its desires to manipulate Alexa into a provocative sword dance that requires the sword point to closely skim the nose of an audience member, be put through the crotch of Alexa’s undies, and “say a swear word” which is almost as risky as falling screaming and writhing on the floor while holding a sharp weapon. Apart from the risk in this undertaking, there is a certain amount of fear that maybe the whole show has been taken over by the wishes of a plant, or at least by those that believe the plant.
The show further becomes political when a John-Key-faced audience member is taken by our host for interrogation and rubbing by ballooned boobs and smothered by a monkey mask. This contrasts neatly with the domestic use of spaghetti in a kitchen cooking show scene, and the section where facebook ‘like’ of your dance video is presented by the further derangement of the two characters performing like a one trick pony over discussions of narcissism, performance and the paradoxical relationship between viewer and art. Once again we experience the delights of art made about making art, revealing the inner compulsions and thoughts of the creative mind.
The finale consists of a group meditation to a Sufi video projection. The meditation turns awry (as expected) to an expulsion of pent up emotions and confessions from our performers – concluding with the tree being smashed to pieces by Alexa’s sword while chewing the leaves animalistically and the sword breaks unintentionally. It is then question time where our two Show Ponies ask all the questions and answer themselves. Such as “yes I have a new pair of undies on today” and “oh where did I get my jump suit?”. Are we the audience really necessary? At least we are in a superficial way.
Show Pony blazenly played on the superficial nature of reality particularly in relation media representations with an interesting slant that spoke deeply of the politics of performance as solo female artists. Despite being a hilarious piece of comedy, the laughs were far from superficial with layers of deeper meaning behind what was being said, which sometimes left you feeling unsure as to whether you should be laughing or not. This resulted in the uncomfortable feeling that the tables have been turned and have we now been put in place by these smiling Show Ponies. As the audience, we became part of the façade, and the scene that gave the piece a depth and liveness that one can expect when comfort zones are challenged, leaving the audience in a new place within the creation of the event itself.
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‘Avin’ a laff with universally personal shtick
Review by Nik Smythe 25th Feb 2012
The set is busy and sprawling – a not inaccurate description of the ensuing performance. Large solid block letters spell the title ‘SHOWPONY’ around the centerpiece coffee table and designer leather seats.
Nisha Madhan and Alexa Wilson introduce eachother (several times over) with various praiseworthy acknowledgments such as “multi-award-winning choreographer” (Wilson) and “former Shortland Street sweetheart” (Madhan), or my personal favourite: “My former flatmate, my future wife.”
In generic TV audience style we are flashed cue-cards telling us to ‘Applaud’, ‘Laugh’, ‘Yawn’, ‘Bark’ and so on. Thoroughly introduced, they launch into an energetic opening dance number, considerably working their celebrity booties to Destiny’s Child’s Survivor until they’re out of breath and ready to ‘start the show’.
However, any presumption that it’s going to be more straightforward from hereon is soon negated as the two brazen lasses candidly discuss each other’s career and aspirations with the disingenuous air of manufactured Oprah-style talkshow pseudo-soul-purging slash soundbyte-grabbing.
Clearly a good many in the audience are friends and acquaintances – throughout the hour-plus-extra time a number of them are spoken to, or about, or enlisted to perform vital functions such as manning the cue-cards, translating gibberish, and wearing a John Key mask (so they can ask him pointed questions about his policies, personal finances and relationship with his mother, etc).
Nisha performs a liberating naked dance without actually removing her clothes, then agonises over whether she ought to have. Alexa channels the thoughts of a number of audience members’ opinions on how the show’s going, as well as the directorial instructions from the tall pot-plant on the coffee table. Together they work with the audience to manifest something tangible through collective visualisation.
While ostensibly the duo are pretty much having a laugh with their mates about whatever they reckon is funny, on reflection it’s an absurdist illustration of not so much life as a celebrity, as about the inner workings of their ego-centric minds; where, why and how far they might go without the kind of attention and direction they crave.
The obvious question is finally asked: “What makes it performance art and not narcissism?” Given it’s surely possible to be both, the real question is how does narcissism compel an audience to appreciate and love them for it, thus satisfying that other egotistical celebrity vice, sycophancy.
There is simply no way to comprehensively describe the audacious, satirical, beautiful, grotesque, poignant, ludicrous, cockeyed, inane, witty, universally personal shtick that is Showpony.
Copyright © in the review belongs to the reviewer