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In Profile: Prying Eye, White Porcelain Doll

Kathryn Kelly

Zaimon and Lizzie Vilmanis, White Porcelain Doll, Prying Eye Zaimon and Lizzie Vilmanis, White Porcelain Doll, Prying Eye
FenLan Photography
Prying Eye was founded by Zaimon and Lizzie Vilimanis in 2010 to develop “live contemporary performance” with sumptuous visuals that promise to generate “goose-bumps” ( The company’s monochrome aesthetic, filled with deconstructed silent film tropes, creates an eerie, post-gothic world that incorporates character and psychology and shuttles between performance-making, movement and dance theatre forms. They are currently working on their debut full-length work, White Porcelain Doll, which will make its much-anticipated premiere at the Judith Wright Centre for Contemporary Arts in late July.

The inseparable pair are partners in art and love since their days as ensemble members in Expressions Dance Theatre in the noughties. When I met them in the leafy courtyard of a local cafe to talk about White Porcelain Doll I resisted asking them any ‘prying’ questions about what it must be like to make an intimate two-hander exploring the darkest and most terrifying emotional context—that of a captive/kidnapped woman and her predator—with your own partner. However with typical élan the pair raised the issue themselves, talking candidly about how the project didn’t start with this brutal scenario, but actually began in 2010 as an experiment in collaborative process. Lizzie and Zaimon wanted to explore how they might work with each other as co-directors and co-choreographers rather than as fellow dancers in an ensemble, also trying not to fall into a traditional dancer/choreographer relationship. The project, A Likely Distrust, was born with a Fresh Ground Residency at the Judith Wright Centre in 2010, collaborating with video artist Ryadan Jeavons and laying the foundation for much of the visual palette of their work.

While there were a number of subsequent residencies, it was only a return to Fresh Ground in 2013 with most of their existing creative team in place that, as they put it, “the work revealed itself.” In the mysterious alchemy of these creative epiphanies the gestural language and the compelling guttural vocal score that had emerged found a place within a specific narrative: the enclosed and isolated world of captor and captive.

Zaimon and Lizzie Vilmanis, White Porcelain Doll, Prying Eye Zaimon and Lizzie Vilmanis, White Porcelain Doll, Prying Eye
FenLan Photography
Despite the violent and voyeuristic nature of the material they have consciously decided to focus on the feminine arc of survival in the piece, searching for images that explore not simply the isolation and domination of captivity, but also the resilience and imaginative capacity required to negotiate that environment by the female victim. Neither wanted to give the game away about the work’s conclusion but they did say that the intention is to provide some sense of hope.

Their term to describe the form of White Porcelain Doll is “Silent Theatre.” As they describe it, the piece is a series of intensive image-based vignettes, like the flickering chapters of early silent films. The guttural language they have developed filters into the piece only through voice-over, supported by a haunting piano composition. The elegant and technically assured dance practice of Lizzie Vilimanis is complemented by Zaimon’s brooding stage presence and their ability—rare in contemporary dance performers—to move comfortably into the realms of character-based movement with depth and integrity.

The model of Bruce McKinven’s set design is spine-chilling in its simplicity: a platform, echoing the shape of a grand piano that reads like a sound-proof box, floating in space. It’s surrounded by suffocating, blanketed material, hung in corrugations, able to be projected upon, but with a distorted, scratchy render that evokes the spooky aesthetic so redolent of Prying Eye’s visual iconography.

Zaimon and Lizzie Vilmanis, White Porcelain Doll, Prying Eye Zaimon and Lizzie Vilmanis, White Porcelain Doll, Prying Eye
FenLan Photography
Making new work is a risky business, but there is a bit of buzz around Brisbane about this show. The long incubation period and the solidity of the creative team bodes well for a ripe work. Having said that, the first debut full-length work for a new company is always tricky and even the most careful processes can go awry.

Ultimately, what is distinctive about Prying Eye is the power of an artistic partnership that is so intensely personal. I think it is best summed up in an image of Lizzie and Zaiman I saw on the Leigh Warren Dance website (, uncredited but presumably from Lizzie’s time there as company member (2009-2013). They are locked in a fierce embrace, with Lizzie falling away but held safe within the concentrated grasp of Zaimon. Their glowing intensity is made playful by Zaimon’s foot, which sits incongruously in the foreground, emphasising the visual trick of the whole image: two bodies falling together as one.

Prying Eye, White Porcelain Doll, co-directors, choreographers Zaimon and Lizzie Vilmanis, composer, director of photography Ryadan Jeavons, design Bruce McKinven, lighting Dan Black, systems designer Tessa Smallhorn, dramaturg Veronica Neave, choreoturg Clare Dyson; Judith Wright Centre for Contemporary Arts, 26 July-2 Aug;;

RealTime issue #121 June-July 2014 pg. web

© Kathryn Kelly; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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