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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“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.