Toxic White Elephant Shock
17/03/2009 - 18/03/2009
A VISCERAL SHOCK TO THE SYSTEM
Provocative and interdisciplinary choreographer Alexa Wilson is delighted to present the premiere performance of TOXIC WHITE ELEPHANT SHOCK.
TOXIC WHITE ELEPHANT SHOCK is an innovative and avant-garde dance work that satirically layers theatricality with dance, film and sound in an explosion of toxically shocking experiences.
This new work looks at how the world around us is suffering under the strain of increasing political, social and environmental pressure. It is experiencing toxic shock. The impact of this shockwave is mirrored in the disturbing physical and mental state of the people. Alexa Wilson states "This work aims to map current political and environmental toxicity or pollution into and onto the body".
Alexa Wilson’s career as an experimental choreographer spans not only a decade but a multitude of disciplines also – having crafted works in the field of performance art and video. Her 2004 work Magic Box received the NZ Listener’s "Best New Work by a Contemporary Choreographer" and has gone on to become an emerging filmmaker with a number of experimental, sometimes transgressive pieces behind her.
Toxic White Elephant Shock marks the first time one of her works has been awarded funding in the form of a Creative New Zealand grant plus Tup Lang Scholarship money for Emerging Choreographers. CNZ have funded a residency with Lemi Ponifasio – the renowned avant-garde artist and his Dance Company MAU. This residency provides Alexa with the environment, support and resources to create a new interdisciplinary work on a larger scale than ever before.
"Alexa has an unrivaled will and commitment to her art. She is the future." Lemi Ponifasio
"Wilson’s creativity is a rich complex feast which deserves to be explored more fully… Her unnerving clarity and audacious style reveal an intellect and imagination capable of a major work" NZ Listener 2004
Crossing over different mediums and different disciplines, it is apt that Toxic White Elephant Shock also crosses over different experiences from performers seasoned and new – including Liana Yew (2006 NZ Listener – "Best Female Contemporary Dancer"), Alana Yee (Mega Pash Action), Anja Packham (Fringe 2006 – "Honourable Mention for Most Outstanding Performer"), Georgie Goater (BackLit Production) and Sarah Gavina Campus (Touch Compass Dance Trust).
The soundtrack to TOXIC WHITE ELEPHANT SHOCK is being created by Charlotte90 and experimental live musician Matt Brennan.
For more information visit http://alexawilson.blogspot.com
Toxic White/Elephant Shock plays
8pm 17thand 18th March, 2009
MAU Theatre, Corban Estate, 426 Great North Road, Henderson, Waitakere city, AUCKLAND
Bookings available through MAU: 09 836 9345 or www.mau.co.nz
Alexa Wilson, Liana Yew, Anja Packham, Sarah Campus, Alana Yee, Georgie Goater.
Matt Brennan (live), Charlotte 90 (composed, but she sang live too)
Videography: Kelly Moynihan
Costumes: Rosey Feltham
Lighting: Boris Williams
Sound Op: Sam Hamilton
Body dissolved in futile aggression
Review by Celine Sumic 20th Mar 2009
Life’s a party and we’re scratching at its surface, searching for meaning amongst a mountain of trash…
Upstage, a horizontally directed spotlight pierces a wall of clear plastic which acts as a kind of ‘film’, filtering the blanket of light that spreads across the stage and onto the audience. Combined with angled lighting from above, the result is of a compressed, horizontal performance field that feels a little like a prison courtyard.
As the work opens, my attention is divided between the large scale images of fire and pollution on the back wall of the theatre, a variety of dancers’ action on stage and Alexa Wilson expounding, in lectern style, on disease through a black balaclava.
The choreographer’s stated philosophy of healing (via transformational theatrical fire) is played out on a surprisingly sparse set as the dancers enact expressions of a disfigured life in the mediatory haze created by the lighting, moving for the majority of the work in semi-silhouette.
Anja Packham picks her way across the floor in bird-like movements that echo a pukeko gingerly crossing a polluted shoreline as Wilson’s narrative, initially delivered in a foreign accent – Scottish or Welsh perhaps? – soon transforms to a kiwi accent with the cry "PAAARRRTY!!!"
Clearly the cue for action, the dancers – variously outfitted in a cross between Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and prison boiler suits – leap into wild dance-party mode. Donning her roller skates, the narrator becomes skater, joining the dance party to skate circles around and between her barefooted colleagues.
Dominated by the magnitude of the projected images on the back wall of the theatre, as well as by the volume of the sound and the eclipse effect of the lighting configuration, the figure of the body is largely dissolved.
While the colour of the dancers’ clothing, alternating from primary bolds to subdued muds and khakis, introduces a sense of distinct personalities, for the most part this is not reflected in the choreography, which instead seems to deliver a range of multiple Alexas.
Boxed (literally at times, in cardboard) the repressed body and ‘the pain body’ (as lectured upon by Sarah Campus at one point in the work), is variously blind, in battle, screaming, swearing, leaping and gesticulating in defiance or collapsing upon an unforgiving ground.
In this way Toxic White Elephant Shock is a 2 hour long haul of disparate moments that could be appropriately summed up by Edward Munch’s painting The Scream – if only it could speak.
Speaking of screaming, Sarah Campus has a good go in an admirable section (while her considerable dance talents, like those of the other dancers in this work, are largely under-utilised), her voice blending eventually with that of another dancer as together they transform their voices into a chorus (albeit rather dissonant).
Vocal explorations, frequent reference to the vagina and infrequent declarations of love are further supported by the ‘lost and found’ sound score by Matt Brenan and Charlotte 90, who both feature on stage at times, as they cross /distort genres. Contributing sound that ranges from ethereal winds and white noise to organic mixes reminiscent of Rotorua mud pools and David Lynch’s The Elephant Man, the sound is arguably the strongest element in this work.
Episodes of frequent physical struggle and verbal abuse are sprinkled throughout the performance and follow clothes being shed early in the scene by the whole company, resulting in a strange play on the value of the human body as described below.
A naked pile up of ‘live’ crash test dummies is juxtaposed with projected video image of a simulated car accident / ‘real’ car crash ‘dummies’ /fake injured people… Eventually the writhing conglomeration of flesh aka naked women on a filthy floor /collapsed pool of humanity, finds its feet – only to then be collectively spray painted with the phrase ‘SICK KUNTZ.’ All of which left me pondering the following deep, philosophical questions (which readers are most welcome to respond to in the comments section below this review):
1. What value, the naked body?
2. Did the choreographer understand that when she spray painted ‘SICK KUNTZ’ on some of her friends she wasn’t just dealing with a ‘human canvas’, that this isn’t ‘just a performance’, that this is ‘real’ – to quote one of her frequently used words?
Founded on the premise that a performance containing the repressed forces of wo/man will liberate him/her from them, Wilson’s aesthetic of conflict, irony and exposure reflects her perception of a world in global chaos that stands to benefit from her mix of intimate catharsis and ironic exposition.
This approach to theatre as oracle can be compared to the ideas of controversial French playwright Antonin Artaud, who in the 1930s became associated with a fundamental revolt against insincerity within the arts (thanks Wikipedia.) Artaud’s ‘Theatre of Cruelty’ drew on the notion of primitive societies to envisage a new theatre as a theatre of magic – a mass participation in which the entire culture would find renewed vitality and truth of expression.
Artaud further defined his goal for a new theatre in spiritual terms as does Wilson, desiring a kind of frenzy and moving violence, with the intention being to disturb the spectator’s state of mind and jolt the senses in order to liberate the spectator towards a renewed consciousness.
While this may have made sense in Artaud’s time, in the context of the current era I find this approach and the use of nudity and violence in performance impotent, given the saturation of sex and violence within our contemporary digitally mediatised culture.
Ultimately, while Toxic White Elephant Shock is indisputably chaotic, in spite of the intellectual tease provided by the satirical layering of the work, in its current manifestation it carries limited dramatic power.
While the work does contain some moments of colour, (for example when Georgie Goater, with a Venus-like quality, enacts a brief solo and seems to encapsulate the beauty of the world in her movement), for the main part the canvas of this work is steeped in a dull haze of apparently futile aggression.
In conclusion, regardless of the global environmental concerns alluded to and the spiritual, shamanistic ambitions purportedly contained within the work, my interpretation of Toxic White Elephant Shock is that a conflicted relationship with media and men lies at the core of the work. In the end, it’s the combined exposition of creative conflict and amorous frustration that takes centre stage, and while this theme may have a universal dimension it’s not the one advertised in the program.
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