News, Performing arts, Reviews, Theatre

Hairy, horrifying… and heart-warming

Review: Michelle Aitken, Unrule ·
The Blue Room Theatre, 30 May ·
Review by Claire Trolio ·

It’s a great thing when a show comes along that is acutely relevant to your personal taste or interests. A feminist consideration of the female body using comedy and horror devices? Sign me up!

It’s even better when that show delivers insightful, relatable, thought-provoking and jovial entertainment. Thursday night’s premiere of Unrule did just that.

Created and directed by Michelle Aitken, and devised/performed by Chelsea Gibson, Mani Mae Gomes, Alicia Osyka and Rhiannon Petersen, Unrule mixes recorded and spoken stories with short vignettes that explore experienced body horrors.

Bathroom elements reference ‘Psycho’ and ‘Carrie’: Chelsea Gibson in ‘Unrule’. Photo: Susie Blatchford, Pixel Poetry.

The horror genre has long been linked with the body and its mysteries. The theme of adolescent transformation is a popular trope within that genre, and films like Carrie (1976) and Teen Wolf (1985) – both of which are referenced in Unrule – are just two of many examples. It’s the parallels between the bodily changes of adolescence, and those played out through the supernatural, that make this theme a popular one.

And it’s not just the adolescent body that’s ubiquitous in the horror genre. The Cartesian separation of mind and body reigns supreme in such texts, and – no surprises – it’s a gendered binary. The female body is often represented as the site of something sinister; the feminine is linked with weakness, unpredictability, evil… in opposition to the rational, in control masculine. As a result, female characters in horror narratives are often treated with distrust and apprehension. Women are frequently seen succumbing to temptation, in thrall to their bodies rather than their minds. Sexually active women are often punished by the text or presented as villains. Such narratives are a manifestation of men’s lack of understanding, a fear of the unknown and, importantly, a desire to control.

Unrule interrogates these horror devices in various ways. It’s the women who control the story here, by performing, creating and sharing both metaphorical and literal stories involving abject horror. The performers explicitly criticise the separation of mind and body in patriarchal discourse. They admit that bodies are unpredictable, and that humans experience their own physical horrors, whilst arguing that – too often – the medical profession ignores women’s concerns and patronises female patients.

Unrule covers issues of bladder leakage, endometriosis, giving birth, breastfeeding, menstruation and more. Playing with intertextuality, wigs – representing unruly body hair – come alive à la the Gremlins (1984) or Critters (1986) franchises; an attack of flying sanitary pads references The Birds (1963). Being a woman is hard, it admits, but don’t pity us. Unrule asks that women be listened to and respected: it’s that simple.

Wigs come alive: L-R: Chelsea Gibson, Rhiannon Petersen and Alicia Osyka. Photo: Susie Blatchford, Pixel Poetry.

Olivia Tartaglia’s elaborate set design is an integral part of the message. With a DIY, crafted feel, it is as raw and emotive as the performance itself. Covered in sanitary pads and allusions to menstrual blood, with the aforementioned synthetic wigs, and bathroom elements that reference Psycho (1960) and Carrie (1976), Tartaglia’s set complements and carries the performance.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of this show – and I am reminded of Charlotte Otton’s 2018 work Let Me Finish – is the sense of inclusivity and an optimism that comes with not being alone. Whilst Unrule concedes that interpretive dance murder will not beat the patriarchy, being in the audience of a show like this engenders a feeling of progress. It’s conveyed not just through the subject matter and delivery, but via the intimate seating arrangement and shared snacks. You are made to feel a part of the fight, and it feels good.

Aitken, Petersen, Osyka, Gomes and Gibson have made a raw and honest work. Though a little green and underdeveloped (yes, it could be tighter), Unrule is a funny and heartwarming show that’s a treat to watch.

Unrule plays until June 15.

Pictured top are Alicia Osyka, Mani Mae Gomes and Rhiannon Petersen. Photo: Susie Blatchford, Pixel Poetry.

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Dance, Features, News, Performance art, Performing arts, Physical theatre

A future that looks like the past?

Described as a one-woman, one-Roomba show, Future’s Eve will also feature a paddling pool, breakfast made live on stage and lasers, according to its maker and performer, Michelle Aitken. The Perth-based independent dance artist took some time out to tell us more about Future’s Eve and the path that’s led her to creating a work that asks why our vision of the future looks so much like the past.

Michelle Aitken

Seesaw: When did you first know that you wanted to be an artist?
Michelle Aitken: I don’t know when I decided to chase arts as a career. I was aiming to do something creative at high-school and, having not really danced before, fell into the ballet program because it meant I didn’t have to do phys ed…

I remember saying quite early on that maybe I could do dance as a career and my mum just laughing. And I don’t think I was serious at that point, but I never stopped thinking that, and maybe it’s happened.

S: Where did you train?
MA: After dancing at school and as part of STEPS Youth Dance Company, I went to WAAPA for three years to do the contemporary dance course. I graduated in 2016 with a BA (Dance). Since then, I’ve learned about who I am as an artist by doing a lot of things for the first time in a professional context. I recently performed in Unveiling: Gay Sex For Endtimes, where I had to learn to juggle wearing a full head latex locust mask and nine inch heels, while naked, while wielding a microphone on a lead, sexy dancing, and (most terrifyingly for a dancer) using my voice. In a lot of ways that show is the most challenging thing I’ve done. It’s also probably shaped my practice the most. I wouldn’t be making Future’s Eve without everything I’ve done since leaving uni.

Michelle Aitken in ‘Unveiling: Gay Sex For Endtimes’.

S: Are you new to Fringe World?
MA: No! I made my first show Milk, Moonlight for Fringe last year, as part of the double bill “Topographs”, at The Blue Room Theatre Summer Nights.

S: Tell us about Future’s Eve, your 2018 Fringe show!
MA: Future’s Eve is about women and the techno-scientific future. Between sex robots, developments in AI, and sci-fi images in pop culture, the majority of female-appearing robots fulfil stereotypically female roles: as receptionists and aged care workers, as the voices of our digital assistants, and as hyper-sexualised objects. So I wanted to ask, why does this vision of our possible future look so much like the past? And how can we think about shaping a more equal future?

The show itself is not actually a dance show – I’d call it an experimental performance. Expect me dressed in full body lycra, a Roomba, a paddling pool, breakfast made live on stage, lasers, popping balloons… It’s got this DIY futuristic vibe, it’s really fun to make, and I hope it’s ultimately thought provoking.

S: Aside from your show, what are you looking forward to seeing/doing at Fringe?
MA: I’m looking forward to catching all the other shows at Peaks, as well as heaps of other new works from local theatre makers! Off the top of my head, Squid Vicious’ godeatgod, Rhiannon Petersen’s The Big Dark, Bow & Dagger’s The Beast and the Bride, and as much contemporary dance as I can possibly fit in.

S: What is your favourite playground equipment?
MA: My favourite playground equipment would have to be the monkey bars. No reason. I like swinging around.

‘Future’s Eve’ plays Paper Mountain, 5-6 & 9-10 February, as part of Fringe World.

Top and above: Michelle Aitken. Photos: Marshall Stay
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Calendar, Dance, February 18, Performing arts

Fringe World: Future’s Eve

February 5-6 & 9-10, 9pm @ The Common Room at Paper Mountain (upstairs, 267 William Street Northbridge) •
Presented by Michelle Aitken •

Bring in the Fembots!
The perfect companions, sex slaves, servants, ideal women!
Drawing from dated sci-fi and cutting edge AI, Future’s Eve is a one woman, one roomba show examining the images and the ethics of female androids.
Bizarre, deadpan, and strangely compelling, witness a spectacle of solidarity for the defective, the destructive, the disposable, and the objectified.
Performer: Michelle Aitken / Composer: Azariah Felton / Designer: Olivia Tartaglia

Presented as part of Peaks at FRINGE WORLD Festival 2018
tickets: fringeworld.com.au

Website for more info: fringeworld.com.au
Email: michelle.aitken1996@gmail.com

Photo: Marshall Stay

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