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hey girl!: dark discoveries

eleanor hadley kershaw

British-born, Eleanor Hadley Kershaw is currently based in Brussels, facilitating communications with IETM - international network for contemporary performing arts/réseau international des arts du spectacle. She has a Foundation Diploma in Art, Media and Design and a BA in English from Cambridge.

Hey Girl!, Socìetas Raffaelo Sanzio Hey Girl!, Socìetas Raffaelo Sanzio
photo Raffaelli
The space is pitch black. A fluorescent strip light upstage sporadically flashes on and off. Silhouetted against these violent interruptions, a young woman’s body is stretched out on the floor, uncomfortably twitching and writhing. She seems to be suffering some kind of fit, or is she forced to dance involuntarily by an unseen power? Unsettling, inhuman electronic noises cut through the dark, slicing into our consciousness: monster-like groans and unfamiliar clicks.

A longer flash, and the silhouettes of three male figures appear. Their backs to us, they group downstage and stare up at the woman. Their silent invasion is threatening and unnatural. Another flash. A male figure dashes into her space, close to her this time. The next flicker. He beats her with a square panel, maybe a cushion, maybe something harder than that. The other men look on. The repetitive thwacking of the attack continues even in the dark. In the next glare we see a couple more men hitting the girl. A second later there are five or six men grouped round her cowering body, beating her repeatedly. A split-second, and there are double this number of men. The onlookers have now joined the abusers. The noise crescendoes. A flash; more men. The new additions can’t reach her body so they beat the floor, the density of the thumping emphasising the sheer multitude of this gang. The flashes accelerate. Red flashes alternate with white. Each time the light blinks more men appear, swarming around the woman until it’s impossible to count. An overpowering slideshow. I am afraid what I will see in the next disorientating flicker.

This time the light stays on for a couple of seconds. The men are frozen, their backs to us, their weapons lowered. The woman is no longer visible. Light off. After the physical assault on our senses, this calm is more perturbing in its unpredictability. Light on. The men are lined in a clump upstage facing out to the audience. Their bodies are now lit, but despite their everyday clothing they still retain the faceless intimidating presence of the silhouetted gang. The girl, curled in a ball, slowly lifts her head. As in an alarming Alice in Wonderland nightmare, her head is now overgrown, disproportionately big on her tiny body, as though she should topple over under the weight of it. For a second I can’t make sense of this image. The uncannily life-like mask tricks me. I start to feel the dizzy lurch of travel sickness.

I have no idea how long I have been submerged in Castellucci’s vision. From the moment that the lights went down on the smoke-filled auditorium and we witnessed the birth of this wispy young blonde, emerging alien-like from a cocoon of dripping plastic gelatine, my faculties have been cut off from anything other than this terrifying world. Beautifully disturbing images have invaded me, touching obscure parts of my consciousness left dormant until now. I have no idea what to do with these pictures, and although the pace seems dream-like and slow, there’s not enough time to process one surreal image before the next appears. Picturebook words – “cat”, “horse”, “train” –are projected onto a screen as the light slowly rises and fades. The girl cries “please shut out the light”. We read the text of an intimate scene between Romeo and Juliet as the girl helps to remove another, larger version of her own head from that of a naked black woman. As we read new meanings into these words, the snatches of seemingly unrelated information link into one movement. It seems best to let this flood through you, rather than wash over.

Images that in themselves may be unsubtle or too literal seem to gain integrity and mystery in the context of this structure and through the clarity of the visual presentation. The black woman, still naked, is shackled by a bearded white man in Victorian top-hat and coat. The blonde woman buys her freedom, then points at the audience. This is not the first time that this gesture has implicated the audience in a crime committed in front of us. Whether she is apportioning blame or calling for action is left to our consciences.

We see this newborn creature boldly spurn contemporary femininity as she pours a bottle of perfume over a burning sword, angrily creating a shrine to the “queens who lost their heads on account of the people”. She is wise but she is also attempting to learn the rules of this place she is trapped in, just as we try to make meaning of what we see. Although she is strong she is not ultimately in control of her surroundings and her confusion and pain become a vivid metaphor for our experience of Hey Girl!, and for our own struggle to learn to live.

A painfully bright red and blue laser beam suddenly shoots down onto the girl’s face, burning our retinas, as a continuous high-pitched screech cuts into our ear-drums. The woman next to me puts her fingers in her ears. Many words are rapidly projected onto a screen, almost too fast to read this time. They halt occasionally: “porn”, “menstruation”, “mammiferous”. This seems to be a mechanical transfer of knowledge from machine to organic organism, a science fiction education on the adult aspects of this haunting world. The process is distressing, a physical violation of this small, thin being.

However, unlike this intervention, the process of Hey Girl! is bewitching because it refuses to guide our thoughts or spell out meaning. Each audience member re-enters their own solid world as they leave the auditorium, and perhaps we walk away with similar thoughts about femininity, sacrifice, servitude, empowerment. But the more intricate and unique imaginings that have been triggered in the last hour just might lead to further discovery within minds that believe they have already learned themselves and their world.

Socìetas Raffaelo Sanzio, Hey Girl!, director, design, lights, costumes Romeo Castellucci, performers Silvia Costa, Sonia Beltran Napoles, original music Scott Gibbons, statics and dynamics Stephan Duve, lighting technique Giacomo Gorini, Luciano Trebbi, sculptures Plastikart, Istvan Zimmerman; Frederic Wood Theatre, University of British Columbia, Jan 23-26; PuSh International Festival of Performing Arts, Jan 16-Feb 3

British-born, Eleanor Hadley Kershaw is currently based in Brussels, facilitating communications with IETM - international network for contemporary performing arts/réseau international des arts du spectacle. She has a Foundation Diploma in Art, Media and Design and a BA in English from Cambridge.

RealTime issue #0 pg.

© Eleanor Hadley Kershaw; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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