Wellington Performing Arts Centre, Wellington
02/03/2007 - 04/03/2007
SKELETON WOMAN, a performance collaboration between actress Helen Moran, writer Kathleen Gallagher, and director/ theatre artist Jane Prendergast is an evocative performance piece in which Mâori elements are interwoven with a stark Eskimo hunting love story, creating startling juxtapositions and images.
This solo performance by Helen Moran premiered to an enthusiastic audience at the Storytelling as a Healing Art conference with US storyteller and Psychotherapist Nancy Mellon in Melbourne last July and was highly commended at the 2006 Dunedin Fringe Festival. It can be seen as part of the Wellington Fringe at the Wellington Performing Arts Centre Friday March 2nd 8 pm, Saturday 3rd 4pm and 8 pm and Sunday 4th at 2 pm and 6 pm.
This is a contemporary New Zealand response to the powerful Inuit myth Skeleton Woman, recounted by Clarissa Pinkola Estes in Women who Run with the Wolves, in which a hunter hooks an unexpected, terrifying entity that pursues him, unable to escape from his fishing tackle.
It will resonate with anyone has fallen in love, and then wanted to run, to those who realise they have attracted to themselves what they most deeply fear, and to all of us who are aware of having to face in ourselves and others what we would more comfortable ignore.
Skeleton Woman transcends cultural boundaries and explores the mystery of what it is to be human… The piece draws on the Michael Chekhov training of Jane Prendergast and Helen Moran’s experience as a solo performer and storyteller. Packed with evocative poetry and disarmingly simple songs, Skeleton Woman is a journey of the heart.
Centred, sustained and desperately serious
Review by John Smythe 04th Mar 2007
I read the Inuit legend that Skeleton Woman is based on, as one of those yarns told to help pass the long winter nights: fundamentally spooky with dashes of magic, mystery, horror, humanity and humour. I’m thinking comedy-of-insight here: the laugh produced by sudden exposure to some essence of truth; to some insight into human fallibility or vulnerability.
The story fuses the past tale of a girl being thrown over a cliff by her displeased father – the fallen woman meets a watery end – with the present story of a lonely fisherman thinking he’s caught the big one only to find her skeleton tangled in his line. Freaked out, he tries to escape but she – it – turns up in a heap on the doorstep of his hut. He settles her by the fire, goes to bed and weeps in his sleep. She sups of his tears, borrows his heart, regains her own body, gets into bed with him … and they become one flesh.
This performance version fuses the Inuit story with Mâori and English language, and a sound track compiled by Martin Howells using Mâori musical instruments played by Jeff Low. Billed as "a performance collaboration between actress Helen Moran, writer Kathleen Gallagher, and director and theatre artist Dr Jane Gilmer," it premiered at the Storytelling as a Healing Art conference in Melbourne last July (with US storyteller and Psychotherapist Nancy Mellon) and went on to play the 2006 Dunedin Fringe Festival.
Their publicity material says, "It will resonate with anyone has fallen in love, and then wanted to run, to those who realise they have attracted to themselves what they most deeply fear, and to all of us who are aware of having to face in ourselves and others what we would more comfortably ignore." Again, there’s a hint of humour in that perception of the all-too-human condition.
Moran’s 55-minute performance in movement, song and other vocalisations – e.g. a wolf howl – is beautifully centred and sustained. Her interactions with, and inhabiting of, the driftwood skeleton (created by Mike Coughlan), her use of such props as a rain stick, and her clear intentions and states of being are compelling.
And it is all desperately serious, delivered with a spiritual reverence that somehow denies its essential humanity. The words, sung and intoned, fall short of being richly poetic. In fact their banality reminds me of what we read in translated opera surtitles, while the music that carries them (no composer credited) doesn’t exactly touch me where it matters. As with Fleet from Christchurch, it feels more like church than theatre. I feel as if I am being asked to worship the art rather than engage, as an intuitive and sensate human being, with the work.
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