Soul of the Beast - Anima della Bestia

Thistle Hall, Cnr Cuba & Arthur Streets, Wellington

08/10/2011 - 08/10/2011

NASDA Theatre, E Block, CPIT, Christchurch

13/10/2011 - 14/10/2011

The Body Festival 2011

Production Details

Images of timeless beauty from folk stories and nature are intertwined with themes of travel, love and loss.

‘Give the Earth back to itself, give our bodies back to ourselves.’ Can we restore our place in the natural world? Chance and design rub shoulders in this new work by The Restore Project. A real time collaboration of architecture, sound, light, dance, movement and voice where the audience presence changes what happens. This is a collective of freelance dancers and musicians from New Zealand and Australia who have assembled for this production.


Dancers: Caterina Mocciola, Juliet Shelley, Nancy Moreau


1 hour

Natural vs un-natural ways

Review by Julia Milsom 16th Oct 2011

Soul of the Beast is Wellington-based Choreographer, Juliet Shelley’s latest offering. She performs alongside Gina Andrews and Caterina Mocciola with live cello performed by Keeneth Love. The work employs movement, text, elements of theatre with live and recorded sound to explore the natural and un-natural ways in which we exist in the world.

The work is established through a sense of journey. The performers arrive in the theatre dressed in boots and jackets to begin their expedition . Shelley and the dancers proceed to undress and reveal surprisingly garish pink sequined outfits, an allusion to the synthetic nature of the present world that we take for granted. They seem pleased with their costumes but then they start to look very confused – was this not the journey they thought they’d booked their tickets for? They look dressed for Ibiza but it seems they may be stranded on a desert Island. No cocktails here.

The three dancers are foreigners – almost alien-like, they explore their environment. It is as though they are returning to a pre-historic time or traveling as innocents into the present. Shelley seems to be asking are we any different to our ancestors or have we been corrupted beyond recognition? Our bodies are not dis-similar but the world we exist in has transformed beyond comprehension.

The movement vocabulary is strongly internal and experiential and influenced by the rudiments of contact improvisation. The dancers generally experience the work alone and rarely interact beyond fleeting moments of contact, misunderstood text and the odd glance; a grieving for the loss of community in the modern world?

The show goes on, images and ideas are introduced – but fade before being given a chance to develop any kind of intensity, and before they are rich enough for the audience to more than catch in passing. Shelly’s voice is soft, her words often unclear, making the text indistinct and hard to catch, though I do understand that she wants us to reflect on what we take for granted as the ‘civilized world’… in which control is exercised over us  by the corporations and the environment suffers as a result.   

The movement spirals, Juliet pretends to play the piano score we are listening to. There are moments of contact improv in its rudimentary form. A contact style of partnering suits the work, with it’s natural use of spiral and the animalistic way it tends to make movers interact but it can also be risky, edgy and confrontational and this contrast could have served the work well. Gina Andrews has a brief moment to break free and she throws herself through the space with elegant limbs, she seems keen to break free and I would love to have seen her instigate this youthful energy more often. Mocciola too has strength in her performance presence but again seemed stifled by the material.

I would have loved to hear the cellist  play in a more wild fashion and to be more integrated with the recorded score and the live action. He seemed to constantly be fighting to be heard. The movement too could afford to be pushed  further – I had a desire to see it too go wild but  it retained a civilized sense of control throughout – Let the animals lose!

The work closes with a game-like sequence to Somewhere Over the Rainbow. The dancers try to hold each other to the spot while one tries to break free – a symbol of the struggle to pursue something other than the constructs of our modern capitalist world, something more natural.



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Raw manifestations of human nature

Review by Fiona McNamara 10th Oct 2011

A story of human nature, humans and nature. Soul of the Beast playfully realises themes of human connections and misconnections, greed and desire, love and loss, beauty and brutality; ultimately ending on an uplifting note of hope. Visually effective, the performance is strongly influenced by a European aesthetic. It never fully exposes “the soul of the beast”, but certainly offers some raw manifestations of human nature.

The audience is comfortably seated on couches and chairs in a single row, when three women, Juliet Shelley, Caterina Mocciola and Gina Andrews, enter the large community hall space at Thistle Hall. They traipse to the back of the stage, where they dump their heavy bags, and remove their heavy shoes and dark winter coats to reveal bright pink and purple sequined dresses. Links with the natural world, greed and violence are explored through text, sound and movement. Three glittering women play, compete, communicate and miscommunicate through their bodies and text in English, French, Italian and Spanish. They transport us to the ‘lost forest,’ with images of nature strongly conjured by the choreography and soundtrack (by Nic McGowan). With spoken word, they tell of a girl being burnt by cigarettes. They move gracefully and rhythmically together, at first supporting each other when they fall, but quickly breaking one another’s trust, as they chase, steal and betray. Finally, they redress themselves for the outdoors and with a glance over their shoulders to the audience, they leave, the same way they came in.

The most interesting sequence for me is when the three women fetch their handbags, empty them onto floor and take stock of the contents. Soon they peer at the others’ belongings, from which they swiftly begin to pluck the items they desire. The wallets, seemingly the items of the most value, are the first to go, then gradually everything and anything: even half a roll of toilet paper is snatched away. The game ends when Shelley and Mocciola join forces and pool the belongings of all three, leaving Andrews, who was previously their friend, alone and indignant. A clear display of the fickleness and selfishness of mankind,  this was the most overtly political sequence, revealing a power dynamic between the performers, that although most obvious here, was apparent throughout the piece. While Shelley speaks in English, Mocciola speaks in French, Italian and Spanish, and Andrews never speaks at all.

A compelling text, paired with skillful movement made for a thought-provoking piece. Multiple languages created effective layers, but overall the text could have been woven together with the movement more effectively to create more complex moments.  Too often the text, sound and performers were separated, without using the potential for juxtaposition and layering. At its best, the sound design would skillfully morph, from lone cello to twittertering birds, seemlessly contrasting nature and civilisation. However, overall it was disjointed, preventing it from adding to the perfromance as effectively as it could. The final track, Somewhere Over the Rainbow, although creating the right mood for the final moment, jarred and felt too easy a way to end after an otherwise mostly original soundtrack.

Following the performance, the audience was asked to respond in a questionnaire, suggesting that this work will be developed further. I look forward to seeing to what depths this talented ensemble can take this already fascinating piece.


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