The Most Naked
24/06/2021 - 01/07/2021
15/07/2021 - 24/07/2021
21/10/2022 - 22/10/2022
Created and performed by Hanah Tasker-Poland with Lucien Johnson
Experimental dance , Dance , Contemporary dance , Cabaret ,
Stripping Away the Layers on Nudity
Review by Hannah Molloy 24th Oct 2022
Familiar feelings for many women and non-binary people. Words that could also describe some of the audience experience during Hannah Tasker-Poland’s The Most Naked. She unashamedly uses her sexuality, body and beautiful dance language to abrade our experience, to dig talons under our complacent expectations of being titillated and amused by a little more skin than is seemly.
From her appearance on stage, exposed abruptly by others – with or without her consent, we can only assume – but still hidden under a train of black gauzy fabric, Tasker-Poland exposes herself layer by layer, until she is showing skin (lawks!) in a slinky black sequined dress. Draping herself on the piano, played, along with assorted saxophones, by Lucien Johnson who co-created the work, she proceeds to tell the audience what we’re thinking and what we’re expecting and how we’re feeling, words that reach climax (several times) in what feels very much like a violent assault. It’s unsettling and provocative.
Johnson strips away her black sequins to reveal gold lame – slightly more skin exposed, which with the pale gold of the dress creates more of a sense of sexiness, rather than the previous sultriness gone wrong. Tasker-Poland offers the audience each part of the female body that ‘we’ ‘associate’ with ‘sexiness’ – hair, legs, breasts, bottom – giving us what she told us we want but morphing it into a caricature of eroticism, robotic, out-of-her-own-control, distressed, still trying to please but no longer pleasing herself.
When Tasker-Poland reappears on stage after a short saxophonic interlude, she is dressed in nude underwear and thigh high boots, and soft pink fur stole. Again, she begins as you would expect in a strip show, perhaps a nod to a gentler era (by which I mean one with fewer women’s rights but with a social perception that women should be treated as frail precious angels), but as she strips for us, again, the performance changes, the grotesquery of randomly placed sexually explicit body parts adding a third dimension to the stress of the show. Tasker-Poland ventures into the audience, much as Johnson had during his solo moment, and thrusts and grinds graphically, without asking permission or seeking active consent from the people she is dancing at.
There’s little catharsis during this show, but perhaps unsurprisingly, it comes as Tasker-Poland strips down to her own bare skin. She stands briefly fully nude and the realisation that the human body is simple and calm is almost shocking before the energy of the audience settles. She describes three facts about nudity as she unclothes and then reclothes herself – it’s not illegal to be naked in public in Aotearoa, in the middle ages, dancers weren’t allowed to be naked on stage unless they were still, posing as an artwork, and female nipples only began to be censored in art around the time women began to be burned as witches. Period of respite over, her two acolytes rejoin her on stage and they’re whirling dervishes, accompanied by wild lighting and stressful music. I don’t remember precisely how the performance ends, but I was exhausted, by the ferocity and velocity of Tasker-Poland’s story-telling and choreography, and by the sense that there’s still so much work for women (in the fullest, most inclusive sense of the word) to do.
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Copyright © in the review belongs to the reviewer
A cabaret of skin and bone
Review by Sam Trubridge 02nd Aug 2021
“It is said that analyzing pleasure, or beauty, destroys it” – Laura Mulvey (1973)
To be naked is to be exposed, unclothed, and vulnerable. There are different states and standards of nakedness these days. Are we more liberal with nudity than in our childhoods, or than in other decades? Why do some people refer to themselves as naked when they’re still wearing pants, underwear, or bras? Perhaps nudity is not a matter of being simply clothed or unclothed. Instead there appear to be different levels of comfort that we each have with being partially or fully naked. Maybe nudity is a spectrum. If so, then this show attempts to find a place at the end of that nakedness rainbow, the pot-of-gold of nudity, the most naked you could ever be.
Who better to embark on this intrepid journey than Hannah Tasker-Poland – an artist whose performance career spans the world of acting and stunts for films and TV, featuring in music videos for Cairo Knife Fight and Bulletbelt, and performing in contemporary dance, theatre, cabaret, or burlesque. The Most Naked is her show. It starts with two burlesque-style attendees (Kia Jewell and Tessa Redmond) dancing enthusiastically on either side of a promising red curtain as we take our seats. When the curtain is dropped, we see a completely clothed form. Not a scrap of skin or hair or eyeball is visible through the dark body-suit that wraps her as she reclines on the podium. This is possibly the least naked, or at least the furthest that this performer will be from nakedness in this show. She sits still in a classic reclining pose – that frank, open body language of a Henry Moore statue, with no gaze through the body suit to confront us. Then, a hand moves, arching delicately to pull off one of the gloves, slowly, slowly, to reveal… more fabric! In key moments of high anticipation like this, Tasker-Poland cleverly withholds any voyeuristic satisfaction. Instead she reserves it for herself, carefully peeling off the second glove, intent on the action, experiencing it for herself, as if for the first time. It is a gaze that doesn’t include us. It is the first becomings of nakedness for this performer. But she is not stripping for the eyes of the beholder, rather for her own: the eyes of the beheld. The subject is her own object, reminding us that to be naked is to also discover your own body.
Tasker-Poland’s gaze works this way often through the show, where she may break her gaze with us, let her eyes drift, or turn inward at critical moments to remind us of the female subjective experience, and the agency that she retains throughout the work. This continues as she slowly peels away layers, exposing more skin, saucy innuendos, bright red hair, confessions, high-heels, her face, and (eventually)… an ankle-length gold sequined dress.
Tasker-Poland shares the stage throughout with musician and composer Lucien Johnson, dressed impeccably in a bow-tie and suit. She drapes herself over the top of his piano and begins to speak through a microphone. She talks about what she is going to do later, she talks about what everyone is expecting, she talks about how we all might get a little turned on, a little wet, a little hard, taunting the audience, tantalising us in a very careful narrative that moves between cabaret, comedy, and performance art. The monologue is rhythmic, musical, always about to break into song. Maybe we might write about it later, she suggests – maybe, maybe, maybe when we get home, we might visit her Facebook or Instagram and maybe, we might be tempted to make a comment or a complaint – “that disgusting woman, how dare she? – how dare she? – and maybe as you write, just a little, maybe, maybe you might get a little wet, a little hard”…
The work continues to turn the gaze around as it leads its audience deeper into the moral panic of nudity, exposing as much in the audience as she does of her own body. This oscillating subject/object-hood is an incredible feature of the work—where the saucy swinging of an exposed leg gradually becomes mechanical, flicking back and forth like a neon go-go-girl sign. Taken further, these mechanical-sexual movements become grotesque. Repeated enough, the swinging leg begins to thrust back and forth and the face loses interest, looking around vacantly. The scene becomes a lewd caricature, a sexual pantomime, as this large appendage swinging from Tasker-Poland’s thigh takes on a priapic personalty. She applies this physical game to the rest of her body: shaking her buttocks, squeezing her breasts together, and pouting her lips. But each time disrupting this repertoire of sexual performance with the odd confused stare, burbly baby sounds, or awkward gesticulations. The overall effect is one of a sexy dancing robot, struggling to perform its programmed movements whilst painfully aware of the absurdity of what it is doing.
But a strip show has been promised. Some of the rowdier members of the audience have been demanding it. When it finally does comes, with a sudden lift of the dress, we are confronted with a pair of prosthetic nipples staring from Tasker-Poland’s shaking buttocks. This bizarre inversion of the sexual body makes it uncanny, confronting, glaring back at the expectant faces with its deviant morphology. When her bra is whipped off there is a prosthetic penis sprouting from one breast, and a vagina slicing through the curve of the other. She thrusts her crotch at us, grabbing at another prosthetic breast between her legs and squeezing it at us. The eyes of the audience get what their mouths have been braying for, but the breasts and dicks and vaginas are in all the wrong places.
Hannah Tasker-Poland always keeps her promises. But when she does strip down completely, when she finally removes the foil of the prosthetic genitals, it is by means of an onstage costume change. It is a completely unceremonious, matter-of-fact piece of stage management—hurried through as she lists facts about nudity while stripping off sweaty underwear, pulling on fresh ones, and shimmying into a long beige dress. The rowdies in the audience try to whoop along with this, but even they know it isn’t quite the kind of nudity they had been expecting, and stay relatively subdued. This brilliant foil counters all objectification – dispelling the ‘to-be-looked-at-ness’ of the female subject in media (described by film theorist and feminist Laura Mulvey).
Hannah Tasker-Poland is an incredible performer. She has worked with numerous choreographers and performance makers across Aotearoa for a number of years now, but in this show she proves that she can also create incredible work of her own, too. To realise this work she has assembled an excellent group of collaborators. The opening dancers, and Johnson’s fantastic musical partnership have already been mentioned. But the production also included Elizabeth Whiting’s immaculate costuming, prosthetics by Yolanda Bartram, set design by Emmanuel Reynaud, and a very effective lighting design by Brynne Tasker-Poland. All of these contributions work brilliantly together to produce a seamless performance and a powerful synthesis of all production elements.
The end is coming. At the end of her costume change Tasker-Poland reminds us of the persecution of women, of “Every woman who was burnt, drowned, imprisoned. You are all standing shoulder to shoulder with me, holding my hand and charging forward with me” (programme notes).
To close The Most Naked Tasker-Poland freezes to a blast of heavy music, then shapeshifts: from witch into a demonic figure, as she slowly lifts two bunches of her hair above her head, stretching them into a pair of red horns. Johnson’s musical accompaniment matches her performance step by step throughout the show with incredible virtuosity, and this moment is no exception – it is furious and wild. Kia Jewell and Tessa Redman rejoin them on stage for a powerful dance of three, invoking demonic powers: the trio of Furies that embody female rage, lit by flaming reds as they thrash out their anger and fling themselves against their objectification.
So what is the most naked that we find at the end? What happens when we peel back the many layers around this objectified, self-determining female body? There is no pornographic climax. There is no erotic farewell, no unsated desires left hanging by a wink or a slap. Instead, the most naked is this: the bold stare of a figure standing astride the space, her hair lifted in horns, her cold stare searching the auditorium, and a furious final dance.
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Unsettling, uncomfortable but delicious.
Review by Deirdre Tarrant 19th Jul 2021
A particularly wild weather night literally propelled a full house to Bats for this much anticipated production.
Two substantial talents Lucien Johnson and Hannah Tasker- Poland onstage and word of mouth reports from the Auckland season, set the atmosphere. It is all about preconceptions, sophistication, mystery and anticipation! Clever design and lighting by Manu Reynaud and Brynne Tasker-Poland respectively, set the space with sumptuous red velvet curtains, mirror balls, a piano and two gorgeous hostesses, Kia Jewell and Tessa Redmond, to welcome us. Nancy Sinatra’s strut song ‘These Boots are made for Walking’ signals the impetus and objective to make work that stands for the right to be a woman. “You are all standing shoulder to shoulder with me, holding my hand and charging forward with me.” (Programme note)
We are aware of women’s rights and persecution but the air is full of a sense of the double-edged… dramatically set for a guilty ‘good time’ and billed as a Cabaret of Skin and Bone. The unveiling and burlesque undressing to the cruising piano genius of Lucien Johnston is slow and tantalising, albeit a little strange… raising doubts, then revealing the glamorous and, yes, utterly gorgeous Hannah Tasker-Poland in sequins and utterly scintillating.
A hard hitting duet reaches orgasmic climaxes and teases relentlessly yet turns the “you know why are you here?” and “you know what you want” back on us as an audience and deftly and mercilessly on us as individuals. Choices to dig deeper into the superficial and salacious nature of cabaret are set up and there is that ‘surface smiling’ but discomfort evident in audience reactions. Three clever dresses by Elizabeth Whiting take us from late night cabaret to the dark and uncomfortable side of sexual mores and presumptions and give a view of a slice of feminist history.
Questions hang in the air for us to take away into the dark and very restless night. Unsettling, uncomfortable but delicious to share. Tasker – Poland shows a real rigour and strength as an artist who bravely pushes her advantage. The result is a brilliant piece of dramatic and personal theatre. The saxophone playing, music choices and compositions by Lucien Johnson are masterfully played – perfect as a social commentary and support for the dance action. Johnson himself is a handsome foil in this theatrical look at the vagaries of mankind.
Tasker – Poland delivers a gut- wrenching social and personal opinion statement with command, passion, turmoil and relentless physicality.
A tour-de-force, The Most Naked is much much more than a show – it will toy with your senses, twist your mind and send you deep into your own behaviour values and experiences.
Go to Bats this week and grow a little – a lot? Word is they are sold out but you owe it to yourselves and your own relationships to try! Storm the Box Office.
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Edgy experimental theatre in a glitzy cabaret act.
Review by Dr Mark James Hamilton 28th Jun 2021
The Winter Garden at the Civic never made more sense. With unusual cold outside, its deep vaults have great appeal. Moreover, the odd exotica of its decor compliments well Hannah Tasker-Poland’s velvet-draped stage. The full house audience look up at its richness from large round tables — some bearing platters and with drinks on many. Up there, two unnamed women in sheer evening dresses sway gently and gesture to the large red curtain screen that covers the stage’s centre, which they flank at either end. Vertical tubular lights at the stage rear vary their hue. Two glitter balls at the stage’s edges shower bright orange spots across us all. Then the show begins with a big reveal. The women carry away the screen. There, on a large raised platform, is a figure entirely covered in black cloth.
To an endlessly looped recording of The Stripper – the iconic big brassy track – the figure proceeds to remove layer upon layer of black; gloves, stockings, wraps, scarves. More black is revealed. The promise of exposure hangs but never arrives. The shedding goes skin-tight sleeves are peeled off and there is white flesh. It’s a stunning contrast. When the Artist’s heavily silver sequinned dress finally shows the cabaret glamour that we expected arrives. But we see her then pragmatically brush her hair and reapply her lipstick : there’s no coy allure or mystery. Taking her place on the baby grand piano’s lid, she reclines to explain what’s afoot. She details our expectations of titillation including sensations we might be seeking – in genital detail. She intersperses her verbal tease with bursts of song that slide into wailing sirens. The pianist plays. The beautiful woman vocalises. But it’s more banshee than Beyoncé.
The sequins are shed. Tasker-Poland is in a silky shift. She dances — fluid and lithe. With confident precision, she accelerates seductive actions till their impact is all bizarre. She slides her fingers through her hair, ruffling her locks — again and again, faster and faster, with an increasing violent edge. She mounts the platform on top of the stage, with a gawky leg trailing at a wild angle: there’s no finesse, it seems. For a rest, she sucks her thumb; she is small and vulnerable. Then, as if half consciously, she manages to almost insert her whole fist in her mouth. It emerges that the easy sexiness we might have anticipated is far away. What is manifesting is more grotesque than burlesque.
Indeed, the next phase takes us somewhere utterly surprising. Stop now if you want to see and not read the shock. TTasker-Poland disappears for a while leaving us with her musician as company — Lucien Johnson, who is pianist, saxophonist, composer and co-writer. She returns with prosthetics that make her buttocks into breasts and her breasts into genitalia. It’s a surreal sojourn. Some audience in evening dress with bubbly in their glasses are taking it all in. Others in cotton casuals look more doubtful. Cabaret is a an attractive but broad term that’s definition is getting looser. Hannah Tasker-Poland pushes this point home expressly. She teases us about how our tickets were not cheap.
Full nudity does arrive. It’s a moment or two while Tasker-Poland changes from her anatomical oddities outfit into a negligee. Earlier on, a male voice with cut glass pronunciation told us what women should show and not show. The lines of cultural critique traced in the performance now swell into a broad river. In a leap and a bound, we learn from Tasker-Poland, speaking all as she changes, of the women burnt in Europe as witches. The lighting heats up. In a tumult of flame effects, the Artist and her women attendants writhe and cavort from one side of the Winter Garden to the other.
This shift — to remembrance of persecuted women — was the oddest part of the performance. Everything else made utter sense. This work is not the voyeurs’ delight or frivolous novelty with which its name flirts. It very deliberately goes another route. Hannah could readily and deftly deliver the first kind of show. The failure to do so is by design. Every step, beat and strip of the night is carefully placed. The promise of a sensual feast is never gone. It’s always there —postponed indefinitely. Because the possibility remains, Hannah Tasker-Poland can entice her audience to enter the emotive themes she evokes. What her performance slowly reveals is her consummate craft. She embeds edgy experimental theatre in a glitzy cabaret act. The combination is totally arresting.
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