Wonder Women Festival – Manchester

From the 2nd – 12th of March Manchester’s many theatres, galleries and clubs will be flooded with artists, activists and creators celebrating just what it means to be a woman. Documentary films about Rebel Dykes, all female techno nights and a huge range of performance and art are on the bill. Could you love Manchester any more?!

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This bold inspiring festival (which sounds to me like a direct challenge to own your own wondrousness) is a creative countdown to the 100yr anniversary of women winning the partial  vote in 1918. Manchester has always been full of forward-thinking fire-crackers, none so much as Emily Pankhurst who was of course, born and bred on the mean streets of Mosside.

The festival poses the question, just how far have we actually come in the past 100yrs and it’s an honour to be invited by Instigate Arts to explore the theme not once but twice throughout the festival.

At the festival’s free launch night ‘Making The Strange Familiar with Instigate Arts’ on Thurs 2nd March I will perform The Art of Reflection at Manchester Art Gallery, a piece first created for the Trans-State conference last year. I describe this piece as a dance-based mirror ritual exploring identity and it’s construction and have integrated a lot of my own magical practices into it. I’m also in the middle of writing my next short story, which is about a woman consumed by a hungry mirror, so there’s certainly a theme bubbling away in my work!

I believe the body is the most powerful tool of expression, for a woman to be dancing freely (outside the confines of some shady establishment) would have alone been dangerous in centuries past! The body also provides a perfect canvas for people’s expectations, which I personally delight in subverting. The Art of Reflection plays with ideas of self-invention and transformation and has a soundtrack that slaloms through the Sex Pistols, to Garbage to Bjork (allowing me to shake out all my crazy energy and channel it healthily!) This piece’s pretty risky climax can’t be practiced or rehearsed, so how it ends is just as much of a surprise to me as my audience. Come and see! The event is open to the public and begins at 5:30pm.

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IMAGE BY LAURA WILLIAMS

Then on the 3rd March at the Royal Exchange I will perform a pure movement piece called ’21st Century Witchcraft’ in the Dolly Mixtures showcase at The Royal Exchange theatre. This cabaret style event is a brilliant place to revive a performance I first created for A Queer Review in collaboration with the wonderful Greg Thorpe. The piece responds to a 7min monologue from Anohni (of Anthony and the Johnsons) in which transgressive bodies, witch craft and the feminisation of religious icons are discussed.

Last time I performed this piece I was told by my partner that I looked like a “sexy mental patient” – probably one of the most honest and accurate critiques I’ve ever been given. Other beautiful weirdos like Rosie Garland, Jane Bradey and Trish Dee are also on the bill that night, so there’s certainly no shortage of wild inspiring women! Tickets available here.

 

The Wonder Women festival has been made possible by the People’s History Museum and Creative Tourist. Read the full festival line-up here.

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Performing ‘reinState’ – A Mirror Ritual at Trans-States

A week ago I performed at the Trans-States conference, an interdisciplinary event examining ‘The Art of Crossing Over’. Despite it being the conference’s first year it attracted a huge number of internationally based scholars, artists and magical practitioners eager to communicate and cross-pollinate.

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Image by Marco Visconti

Highlights for me included Patricia McCormack’s keynote talk discussing ‘mucosal beginnings’  and monstrous desire in Lovecraft and popular culture and Alan Moore’s call to go forth and infuse magic back into our cultural imagination through art.

I discussed’Written in Skin : Flesh as A Language Frontier,’ framing mine and Loren’s performance project against Helen Cixous’s essay ‘The Laugh of the Medusa’ and was scheduled to perform ‘reinState’ with Laura McGee. After finding out last minute that Laura couldn’t make it, with only a couple of weeks to reformulate something dealing with trans-states, identity and ‘crossing over’, I had to work fast to conceptualise something new.

The original reinState performance, still to be performed on the 8th Oct at HOME Mcr, hinged on the idea of two people meeting, fusing and then ‘reinstating’ themselves through dance. Performing this alone would have been impossible and so I conceived a way of doubling myself, still keeping the ‘restoration of an identity’ idea key.

On holiday in magical Wales I had an image of myself surrounded by a circle of mirrors, with a large full length in the centre. The mirrors were clearly markers of the four directions and the mirror in the centre represented myself. I kept coming back to the world ‘reinState’, defined as restoring something to it’s former power, and it became clear that before something could be reinstated it first needs to be changed or broken down in some way. The verb itself indicates a shift of power, something that has been removed or disrupted, being given back.

I started to play with the idea of a person who has never seen their reflection in a mirror before, like a child or an animal or someone stepping back into consciousness after a long period of mental disorientation. I liked the idea of enacting the mirror stage, treating your reflection as something alien and then explored what it would be like to fall in love with this reflection and even to be rejected by it.

I put together a playlist of music that would be the guiding force to this mirror ritual and threw in all kinds of tracks from Public Image Ltd’s ‘Death Disco’ and ‘Fodderstompf’ to Tom Waits ‘Hell Broke Luce’. Through this musical collage a story started to emerge; of awakening, of ‘coming back into’ my body, dancing, encountering the other, trying to befriend it, falling in love, becoming more and more frustrated as it remained cold and aloof and eventually destroying it.

The answer then became clear. I could reinstate my identity by reshaping the broken fragments in anyway I liked. I rebuilt a third entity, unlike myself or my reflection, a third person, an abstract deity and a consciousness beyond myself.

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‘compenSate – The Politics of Competition’ Performance art by Stefanie Elrick & Laura McGee

A video has emerged of my durational dance piece ‘compenSate – The Politics of Competition’ commissioned by Instigate Arts and performed at HOME Mcr in July with Laura McGee. I must say, in my decade of performance, I don’t think we have ever looked more lithe or graceful in a more subtle piece of art…

Stef Elrick & Laura McGee ‘The Politics Of Competition/Compensate’ – Ambition from Instigate Arts on Vimeo.

We were asked to respond to the theme of “ambition” and decided to explore the way people try to gain social advantages or just attention through their looks. I think a healthy dose of ambition is often a good thing, it makes you get things done – it makes you start businesses, write books or create new pieces of art – but when it becomes a dominant unchecked force in your personality it can make people blinkered and distorted, a weird and often dangerous combination. 

The beauty industry and fashion world is rife with blind ambition, alongside a lot of genuine ingenuity and creativity granted, but it’s definitely the dark side. Nicolas Winding Refn represents this beautifully in his controversial film Neon Demon which I absolutely loved (first film in a while with a final scene that left me speechless!) It’s a strange and alien world to me and so naturally, I’m fascinated.

I’m curious as to why men and women modify their bodies unnecessarily with face lifts, fake tan, injections in their saggy bits, skin bleaching, shaving off their own eyebrows and tattooing them on and countless other things I’ve probably never heard of to make bigger and better caricatures of their original selves.

compenSate sees two normal, healthy dancers competing for the attention of their audience. They begin plain and able bodied and through the course of their ridiculous and cumbersome alterations can no normal perform their choreography and become parodies of themselves.

The piece is hilarious and Laura and I had so much fun doing it. Thank you so much to Kevin and Anne for seeding the idea and giving us space to create. It even has a guest appearance by our very good friend Bren O’Callaghan.

So what do you think, is blind ambition a good thing?