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.

‘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?

“Put on your red shoes and dance the blues”

I’m not going to lie, it’s been a surreal week here in the (arguably) united UK. The atmosphere is unstable and navigating through the media shit-storm proceeding the EU referendum – and it’s very real cultural aftermath – has felt like wading through treacle. You can feel the tremors everywhere, internally and externally and the worrying thing is that I’m not even sure if the real earthquake has hit.

I may be wrong, I’d really like to be.

On the positive side I’m very lucky to be surrounded by gifted and pro-active people, Manchester is a magnet for human diamonds. Kevin Burke and Anne-Louise Kershaw from Instigate Arts are two such hardworking gems and have commissioned a dance piece from Laura and I called compenSATE, which we’ll be performing at HOMEMcr in the galleries on the 9th July alongside Kevin Burke, Bartosz BedaMichelle Hannah, Richard Hughes, Sara Minelli & Hyunjoo Kim,Emily Mulenga, Greg Thorpe, Angela Readman, Louise Woodcock.

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compenSATE responds to the theme of ‘Ambition’ and is a 2hr dance piece that examines the way we compete. For 2hrs Laura and I will explore beautification rituals, suggesting that these look-enhancing treatments are really homogenising the mainstream. The exhibition is free and open between 6pm – 9pm.

We’ve also been rehearsing for Christopher Bowles’s new play AUTOPSY, a dark and ambitious piece of theatre exploring our relationships with our bodies. Laura again is on-board and we’re been choreographing surreal mirrored sequences for a number of the scenes.

Christoper Bowles of Magpie Man Theatre is such a talented writer and director and since he ‘came out’ on the literary circuit last year he’s been taking it by storm. It’s a pleasure to work with him, even if he did script that I get dribbled on by one of my ‘clients.’ In the original version I got my feet cut off too, so I supposed things could be worse. He’s also turned all the cast into corpses for the show promo posters. I think I make quite a charming cadaver!

AUTOPSY Stefanie Elrick Christopher Bowles Manchester Fringe Theatre

Yesterday I worked again with Kevin Burke on one of his personal projects -‘The Measure of Hope’ – which will also be screened as part of the Instigate exhibition at HOMEMcr. Like the best of all things the timing of this collaboration was impeccable.

After a weekend of restless fidgety energy, feeling frustrated and unsure but trying to stay positive, I had so much conflicting stuff waiting to be released. Of all the dance pieces I’ve choreographed this was the most unexpectedly intense. I had a few rough ideas of movement I’d like to integrate, and we’d discussed the theme of the piece (the evolution of civilisation and ambiguity of ‘progress’) beforehand, but we basically just booked a space and launched straight in. No fuss, no frills, just the body responding to sound.

The track  itself changes a lot in seven minutes and there’s a really chaotic section in the middle followed by a beautifully gentle piano ending. As we repeated the track and I free-flowed in response, I found myself releasing more and more of the pent up frustration and anger that I had ignored all wkend, until the dance became more like a protest or an exorcism. I literally pulled and slapped and stomped and cried the anger out of my system, before reining it back in delicately and regaining control of my body.

Kevin is a great director encouraging me to perform the piece repeatedly until all my energy was spent and I couldn’t physically do anymore. I went home afterwards and collapsed into bed for 4hrs. Today my body feels battered and bruised but I know I’ve regained some sense of the balance I lost last week.

 

It reminded me that dance is such a powerful tool, especially when you do it for yourself, when it isn’t a performance for someone else’s pleasure. For too many years dance became very much like work for me and I forgot why I started in the first place. I danced as a teenager to switch my brain off, I danced myself into oblivion because I could lose control then regain myself in an energetic reset. I danced to reconnect and ground myself and I danced to find an expression for all those wordless things that rocketed round my body, manifesting as panic, simply needing to be released. It’s not a solution to every problem but it’s an amazing coping mechanism, such a simple technique that I think we take for granted and we will very much need in the years to come.