08/10/2011 - 08/10/2011
10/03/2011 - 11/03/2011
12/10/2011 - 12/10/2011
Unapologetically provocative, political and anarchic
Review by Julia Milsom 13th Oct 2011
We are not permitted to enter the theatre until the show begins and when we do it is clear that it has already started. Alexa sits serenely cross-legged with her back to us. She is writing on a cardboard box. We are invited to sit in chairs around her. The light is dim but warm. I can make out the figures of the people opposite me but the downlight means I cannot see their faces. They are my mirror, silent, faceless witnesses. It is intimidating but then I remember that I must look the same to them and I relax into the security of my anonymity.
I have experienced Alexa’s work before. It is always unapologetically provocative, political and anarchic. I don’t expect anything less from the show tonight. And yet Alexa greets us so softly, so quietly as though she doesn’t want to scare us. She reminds us that she is in control but that does not mean she is not vulnerable. And this seems to set the tone for the entire work. Alexa has been away in Berlin. It is very clear to me that her work is more refined, more gentle, that she is more comfortable and less desperate for us to ‘get it’. She gently coerces us into considering the big questions – exploitation, capitalism, consumerism. Don’t get me wrong, she makes no qualms about her own position but I felt totally free to make up my own mind. She is almost like a politician – is this work a cunning new form of propaganda?
She does tell some blatant lies. That she is Faust and that English is her second language – but we don’t mind. She says she’s had difficulty finding work, what with English being her second language but she wants to show us what she is good at. She takes a coat hanger. It is decorated with various bits of bright flotsam and jetsam. She points it as us, like a sword, a magic wand and circles us, as though performing an ancient shamanistic ritual. We’ll buy it.
It is not just her gentle voice or her naked vulnerability that wins us over, it is that she is clever and funny – in a funny and clever way. She is ironic, she satirizes performance art, dance, New Zealand and Berlin not to mention herself, and the audience laps it up.
But I have not talked enough about the dance vocabulary. About half way through the show Alexa asks if we would like her to dance – “This is New Zealand after all and we like to see dance at dance shows right?” She explains that in Germany dance performances are minimal – that the dance can exist inside the performer’s head. In Berlin she was accused of being an Expressionist! And somehow through going away I can see that she has realized that this is where she needs to be, where she belongs and where she can make a difference. Welcome Home Alexa, Haere Mai, I for one am so glad you came back.
But Alexa does dance. She dances well. She dances her own way. She dances with articulation, attack, flow and without pretension. She intrigues us. The movement is sinuous but broken, languid and harsh, she shifts and transforms like a shapeshifter as she gently and almost accidentally undresses. I think she may have hypnotized us. There is no doubt that this artist is a choreographer, that her body is her palimpsest. (Especially when she invites the audience to write on her naked body as she dances).
Alexa is naked a lot. She also has a lot of costumes and props. The audience are privy to each change but we are not voyeurs in this world – we are truly active participants. This is superbly crafted by Wilson. There is always that horrible dread of audience participation no matter what the context but Wilson manages to treat this participation as integration – we are part of the show – we are all culpable for what happens and this, in a way is really the over-riding message I took away with me: My personal responsibility within our society. It is easy to be on a soap box about an issue and just as easy to sit on the fence. Alexa literally asks us just what exactly have we witnessed and what have we done about it? We reflect on this – but we don’t feel preached at, we don’t feel guilty, rather we feel responsible and this is empowering.
As in society, we are responsible for what we get out of a performance. We can put a line in the sand and say we like it or we didn’t or we can say we considered it and what it made us think about ourselves. This does not mean the artist has free will either – to get your audience into this state is an art form in itself. One in which Alexa is fast becoming a virtuoso in her own right.
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Review by Alys Longley 09th Oct 2011
First of all, Wilson is an excellent mover. She is Mercurial on the floor, with legs that seem like prehensile appendages. I wouldn’t be (too) surprised if she slithered up a wall. She is also very articulate. One section reminds me of a hip-hop nod to the women painted by Egon Schiele. By turns a conjurer, an exorcist, a healer and an activist, she embodies the ritualised presentation of the feminine enigma, an anarchic goddess with a game to play and an axe to grind.
Alexa: ‘Welcome to the workshop’ Audience: ‘Oh shit, audience participation’
Actually, that suggests we are not up for it but we are, we really are and the acceptance is swift, almost unanimous. For the next 80 minutes we are not just watching a work, we are in it. This is one of the most successful engagements between performer and audience I have ever seen. It really works. Wilson manoeuvres us to fulfil her provocation rather gently and we respond warmly. Hold hands? Ok! Write on your naked body? Sure! At times friendly and funny, she is also crafty, and tricks us into ever-greater degrees of complicity. A game of remembering a series of objects (while a rather distracting recording of orgasmic pleasure sound plays) then requires a story to be told about one of the objects. Then a dance must be performed. The resulting feather dance proves that there are always some participants willing to go the extra mile (possibly taking a thematic cue from the orgasm sounds). The next step however is that Wilson begins to take photos of the volunteer dancer. This is interesting territory as while initially seeming a supportive facilitator, Wilson is now toying with the role of the exploiter or at least alluding to the possibility. This becomes an ongoing theme.
Promising that it won’t hurt, a volunteer male is invited to stand in the centre of the space and a bandana is tied around his forehead. He becomes a kind of generalised male power figure as Wilson crawls and contracts on the ground in front of him. The bandanna is pulled over his eyes and it is the image of a hostage. What is she saying? Well she isn’t saying anything. She is asking us to project our subjective judgments, which she then asks us to share. One respondent says ‘ It represented you innermost desire, “ which clearly falls into her trap. “ Really? Is that what you saw? She smiles. It’s priceless.
An innocuous invitation to “come lay beside me“ lures another member of the audience (someone who wouldn’t usually). The next thing they know, they are being asked their deepest wants, and god, we want to hear them. Part of the reason it works is that Wilson has created an atmosphere that is part sleepover, part AA meeting and yes, part workshop. It is informal and spatially, we are all in it together.
Wilson is straight up, unapologetically emotional, unashamedly opinionated and effortlessly unconventional. She doesn’t like consumerism and she doesn’t like exploitation. She is concerned about our capitalist leanings and doesn’t beat around the bush in telling us so. I have never heard her voice carry so much weight in performance before. In her opening polemic, her anger is compelling.
Clearly not a minimalist, her works inevitably end looking as if the stage has been ravaged by a cyclone. Although the end section becomes more internalised and less interactive losing some momentum and energy, there are still compelling moments, particularly as she appears to disgorge the contents of a tv directly and violently into her body. What a disturbing implication!
With this format some might wonder if Wilson isn’t doing exactly what she is railing against, exploiting people to achieve her objective. There is an element of that and not everyone will warm to it. However that is outweighed by the elements of the work that seek to empower people, give them a voice and encourage them to share it.
This work contains imagery that really delivers, but it is too layered to understand completely. I get a lot of it, and I’m sure a lot sails over my head. I’m OK with that. Unfortunately I have to end this review with a few questions unanswered and so much more that I’d like to mention, such as all the ideas of how to make the world better, that the audience share (“ I go to bed early and get up late” to conserve resources is a crack –up, while ‘I got my cat from the SPCA’ is a also winner). One final image that stays with me is of Wilson crawling through the strewn stage and onto the lap of the audience. She is like a tiny whale that has crawled up out of the sea looking for solace. When it is over, she thanks her collaborators and then stays onstage to greet her audience (now collaborators as well). Relational art it really is.
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Fierce! shaman magic
Review by val smith 11th Mar 2011
Weg A-Way is shaman magic amidst the hustling distortions of city mind, life and distraction. Alexa Wilson. Sword. Candle, tea cup. Feathers. Trophy, Axe. Dracula cape.
“Hope…revolution…..light in the darkness” – we call out what that section meant to us.
Sparkler burns out, end still glows red hot.
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Copyright © in the review belongs to the reviewer