OVERWORLD

Young goddesses rise from the debris of pop culture

OVERWORLD deals with how we access and broadcast information online, how we connect to information and to each other, what is meaningful and what is not.

Inspired by our immediate and unlimited capacity to access pop culture just as easily as ancient ritual and spiritual practice, OVERWORLD appropriates neo-paganism, yoga, music videos, death metal, online gaming, erotica and You-Tube. These disparate worlds are placed side by side, questioning how our uninhibited and superficial access to this information affects not only the way we relate to it, but more so, how we value it.

 

Conceived and Choreographed by Sarah Aiken and Rebecca Jensen

Performed by Sarah Aiken, Rachel Coulson, Rebecca Jensen & Janine Proost

Sound Design by Andras Fox (A.r.t. Wilson)

Set and lighting design by Rose Connors Dance

Operation by Shane Thompson

Costume by Cary Aiken

images: Gregory Lorenzutti

 

Chronology

2014: Next Wave Festival. The Substation, Melbourne

2015: Dance Massive. Artshouse, Melbourne

 

Supported by Next Wave Kickstart, Australia Council for the Arts, Artshouse and Creative Victoria

 
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writing

"OVERWORLD heralds a new aesthetic in high art: maximalist, freely mixing high and low references, unapologetically feminine, silly rather than stern, but thoughtful" Risk yields new forces Jana Perkovic: RealTime.

"Overworld plays with the unleashing of feminine magic into the confinement of a theatrical space, as well as an investigation into chaos and mystery, and the representation of the female body as goddess, victim, and sex toy. As Jensen and Aiken suggest, Overworld is the story of “four goddesses who rise from the debris of pop culture”. But such a statement feels inadequate for what is a highly complex exploration of female sexuality, myth, and ritual." [DanceTabs] Jordan Beth Vincent

"In the emotionally repressed, somewhat macho Australia of 2014, the most revolutionary work I saw was Sarah Aiken and Rebecca Jensen’s Overworld, a freeform, participatory fantasia that immerses the audience in a lush cocktail of physical sensations, guided dance, imposed dress-ups and tenderness. It is a girly, playful, emotionally rich work, and it does more than simply put these values on display – it breaks our protective walls to immerse us in sensory exploration, affection, lightness, a feeling of safety. It is of no surprise that Aiken and Jensen’s Overworld draws inspiration from a variety of sources totally foreign to the tradition of Western enlightenment, and routinely trivialised: kundalini yoga, witchery workshops, pagan rituals. In the ‘West’, we do not value deregulated states of affective exploration, curiosity and connection with others, not more than the Saudi police. And this may be precisely the state to remember to cultivate when we are called on to be righteous, to be angry and to retaliate.

What the ‘West’ needs is an ethics of touch." An Ethics of Touch, Jana Perkovic, Dancehouse Diary

"Aiken and Jensen hit gold when examining the right to access mythic traditions in contemporary terms." The Body Seen and Seeing. Varia Karipoff. RealTime.

 

Excerpts from: Risk yields new forces Jana Perkovic: Next Wave 2014 

RealTime Arts - Magazine - issue 121

http://www.realtimearts.net/article/121/11595

 

New feminism

However, a new grand narrative did emerge at Next Wave 2014: new feminist performance. There has been an undeniable renaissance of feminist thought and activism in the last few years globally, but more so in Australia than elsewhere (probably fuelled, in part, by the horrific treatment of Julia Gillard and the murder of Jill Meagher in 2012). Combined with strategies to increase the presence of women in theatre roles, undoubtedly the most interesting work around Melbourne in the past few years has been made by women. Female performance-makers at Next Wave presented work that was not only thematically, formally and politically world-class, but exceptionally innovative, original and deeply imbued with Australian sensibility. In fact, its major innovation is that it transcends the label of ‘feminist performance.’ It is unmistakably made by women and politically progressive, but it is not overtly ‘about’ gender anymore.

...

OVERWORLD, Sarah Aiken and Rebecca Jensen

 

Sarah Aiken and Rebecca Jensen, young choreographers associated with Abbott, presented the other dance highlight: OVERWORLD. It is an extension of their work Deep Soulful Sweats (which I missed): a participatory, audience-centred combination of dance, yoga and ritual. It brings together movement vocabulary, visual and thematic references and performance practices spanning Kundalini yoga, neo-pagan rituals, contemporary witchcraft practices (à la Buffy the Vampire Slayer), elements of the Zodiac, bush doofs, creation myths and unabashed silliness. OVERWORLD has a gleefully sprawling structure like the beginnings of multi-cellular life: the four performers dividing the audience into elemental groups based on the horoscope; dressing-up and tearing each other’s clothes off in a beautiful, intelligent reference to creation myths across the globe; guiding a meditation session; and finally, as traces, disappearing into a screen, singing and dancing in preparation for a night out.

In the central sequence, once the performers have torn each other’s clothes off while shrieking and wielding their smartphones, one of them remains, totally naked. The lights dim, she lies on the floor and the smartphones are put into glass jars. It turns out they were used to record the action, which is now replayed. The girls’ shrieks now sound eerie, resonating with associations of rape and other violence. Amid it all, the naked performer slowly and sexily eats an ice-cream. One does not necessarily have to know that the central moment in most creation myths is the rape of an Earth goddess to fertilise and create life in order to appreciate how masterfully the point is made about the cultural milieu in which we live.

I admired enormously how unafraid OVERWORLD was to claim supposedly trivial, ‘girly’ concerns and aesthetics. The puzzlement with which it was greeted reminded me of the dismissal of Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries (youngest-ever recipient of Man Booker Prize in 2013) because of its low status genre (Victorian thriller) and its structural basis in something as ‘unserious’ as the Zodiac. Like The Luminaries, OVERWORLD heralds a new aesthetic in high art: maximalist, freely mixing high and low references, unapologetically feminine, silly rather than stern, but thoughtful.

 

 

 

[DanceTabs] Rebecca Jensen & Sarah Aiken’s Overworld and the rise of spiritual & ritual contemporary dance

21/04/2015 Jordan Beth Vincent

In Overworld, we enter into a sacred space.

Or at least, it seems as though we are entering into a sacred space. Divested of all personal belongings in the foyer (and therefore somewhat stripped of the trappings of our normal identities), we are bestowed with new roles as ambassadors for our astrological signs. Born in July – I am a water sign, a Cancer, a wearer of blue. We are slowly led in single file to stand along the rim of a pentacle inscribed with items of clothing. There is lycra and faux fur, bikini bottoms, scarves and silken robes – an op shop explosion organised for the evocation of the spirits. Within the womb of the star lie four females in sheer white dresses (Sarah Aiken, Rebecca Jensen, Janine Proost and Rachel Coulson). After a slow and ritualistic emerging that references the movements of bugs and animals, restful repose gives way to jogging sequences in precise, militaristic formations. It is as though the dancers are marshalling their bodies, collecting energy for some as-yet-unknown purpose. From its use of repetition in movement to the second-hand clothing that dominates Rose Connors Dance’s set design, Overworld is a conscious adherent to the cult of recycling, reimagining symbols and items for newer, and perhaps more obscene, purposes.

Later, we will each have an intimate encounter with our self-proclaimed goddesses (including a palm reading for some) and the opportunity to dress our goddess in items of clothing from the floor (all blue, of course, for those of us lucky enough to identify as Cancer, Pisces or Scorpio). Now draped in the cast-off clothing of strangers, the four goddesses battle for supremacy, ripping scarves, gloves, robes and skirts off one another’s bodies. At the end, one goddess is left stripped entirely bare, cast down amid the debris of cloth and silk and beading and every kind of synthetic material imaginable. This is a rape of sorts; a stripping of identity and a desecration of the formality that characterises the start of the work. Footage of the battle, recorded in real-time on four smartphones (that miraculously survive the wrestling match) is replayed in the darkness. Flickering lights from four tiny screens offer a virtual re-enactment of the fall of the goddess, rather like ceremonial candles illuminating patches of bare flesh.

From there, Overworld veers into a group meditation and the audience is invited to ‘relive a past life’ from our new positions on loungers at one end of the space. In this sense, we have come full circle, taking on the role of the goddesses in repose, peering down with half-closed eyes to where the dancers move in slow motion, inscribing circles with their limbs. Is this a rebirth, perhaps, after death? Or is it simply a re-centring of a work that has dipped into the chaos of iconoclasm and a reclaiming of feminine strength? At the very end, however, the four women vamp to the sexualised lyrics of pop singer Jason Derulo. This time, their faces are projected large through the lens of a video camera and onto screens on either side of a makeshift stage as they dress, strip and re-dress in a series of baggy tops and oversized sunglasses. As the stage fades to black, Derulo mutters “Damn, baby, you got a bright future behind you,” an ending in lyrical form that subverts the sacred into the misogynistic.

Created by emerging choreographers Rebecca Jensen and Sarah Aiken, Overworld plays with the unleashing of feminine magic into the confinement of a theatrical space, as well as an investigation into chaos and mystery, and the representation of the female body as goddess, victim, and sex toy. As Jensen and Aiken suggest, Overworld is the story of “four goddesses who rise from the debris of pop culture”. But such a statement feels inadequate for what is a highly complex exploration of female sexuality, myth, and ritual. It is a strange and compelling work despite very real structural problems that can be attributed to overlong improvised sequences.

For several years, Jensen and Aiken have created a framework for participatory fitness/performance events that play with notions of spirituality (or rather, a kind of ironic pseudo-spirituality), mining different cultures, rituals, and ceremonies for material to apply to a contemporary dance practice. Jensen and Aiken fashion themselves as hipster priestesses in these works, dividing up their acolytes – the audience members – using star signs and horoscopes to provide a kind of artificial division and structure. Heavily interspersed with new age mysticism, yoga and a cult-like fetish of the body, Jensen and Aiken do not seem to be content to focus solely on a theatrical presentation, but rather on developing an ‘experience’ for their audience; in this sense, their work can almost be framed as performance art or installation.

In the past few years, Jensen and Aiken have created an experiential art group, Deep Soulful Sweats, that specialises in work that intersects contemporary dance performance with pseudo-spiritual experience. According to reports, the work of Deep Soulful Sweats was inspired by Jensen’s attendance at a ‘Witch Camp’ in Germany. Through that experience, she and Aiken found fodder for participatory performance that connects with a pop-culture interest in the supernatural, spiritual and astrological. In the performance of their quasi-mystical combination of aerobics, yoga and dancing, along with “senseless chanting and choreographic configurations,” Deep Soulful Sweats exploits a burgeoning interest in the ‘mystic’ and spiritual while naming the experience as “faux ritual”. There is little talk of participatory performance as a cathartic experience here, nor any expectation of a paradigm-shifting, life-changing event. Rather, Deep Soulful Sweats offers an opportunity to ‘get sweaty’ and to have a play with ritual and mock-mysticism. As a water sign and Deep Soulful Sweats attendee, I have previously found myself grouped with dozens of ‘water’ babies of all ages, as we crawled, leapt and pranced around the space in unison. This creates an enormous mob of people weaving through the space in what is, essentially, organised chaos – all performing movement that seems randomly sequenced, but informed by the breathing techniques of yoga and pilates and the freedom of a creative movement class for children.

However, it is clear that Jensen and Aiken are not seeking to examine something entirely genuine in either Overworld or their Deep Soulful Sweats work – surely it is an ironic, youthful re-appropriation of the rich symbols of feminine power and spirituality from any and every era imaginable. At times, it almost seems as though these women are laughing at themselves and at us for embracing this work and our roles in it, which range from spectator to participant. At other times, their devotion to the questions that drive the quasi-mysticism of Overworld feels fundamentally authentic. This is a performance of the sacred, or rather a test of the audience’s willingness to inhabit the skin of an acolyte, a devotee, or a believer.

In its quasi-spiritual themes and framing, Overworld has tapped into an emerging trend in Melbourne contemporary dance, namely the creation of work that uses ritual as a thematic basis, and does so in a way that demonstrates a lack of faith in codified structures, frameworks and hierarchies. From works by Phillip Adams Balletlab (Miracle, Tomorrow, Kingdom), Stephanie Lake (A Small Prometheus), and Gideon Obarzanek (l’Chaim), as well as Rennie McDougall (Yes Dance), Natalie Abbott (Maximum) and Shian Law (Personal Mythologies) – notions of spirituality, ecstasy, self-flagellation, the cult of the body and ritual are becoming a new kind of methodological framework. Underlying all of it, however, seems to be a question about the place in which these contemporary dance choreographers find themselves (or seek to find themselves) in the larger context of the development of a contemporary art form, and also perhaps the extent to which design and visual dramaturgy is speaking to the movement of the physical body…

 

 

 

 

OVERWORLD: Re-imagining, re-organisation: saturation as process and desire as order

To Write: Dance Massive Writing Workshop

18/03/2015 Chloe Chignell

What struck me most about OVERWORLD, through the messy and saturated assembly of thought, action and power, was the generation of a new kind of spectatorship. In an episodic-like re-organisation of pop culture, contemporary media and spirituality, OVERWORLD formed a new social ritual. Choreographers Rebecca Jensen and Sarah Aiken created a mobilising and generative structure that enabled the audience to dynamically shift toward and away from the performance. OVERWORLD facilitated a myriad of relationships between the audience and performer, varying their engagement and proximity to one another. This gave space for the performers to position themselves as individual, collective, guru, receiver, consumer and creator – sometimes simultaneously and often in succession.

 

OVERWORLD pressed forward through continual saturated activity, organising the performance through desire and maximalist ideals. They utilised private, personal, communal and mass spaces to create a new social order. Without a vertical or horizontal hierarchical structure, OVERWORLD operated on an undulating terrain. The performers shared their desires so that they could become ours too: the desire to heal, be healed, to consume, to find truth, to find cool, become lasting, conflate and inflate the self, be leader, be community, be alone and be together. Through each encounter the audience is asked to re-organise and re-orientate itself. The audience never quite becomes situated in any encounter. This mobility of the audience subverts a normative expectation to engage with a performance from a singular position. OVERWORLD manages to multiply the function of an individual within performance.

 

OVERWORLD made porous and raw the often-veneered surface of a performance. It asked us as individuals and as a collective to contribute and to observe. Multiplying the audience’s idea of self within the performance and generating a new order for our engagement, we have multiple functions as we need to tend to our ever multiple desires.

 

OVERWORLD brings to mind a Deborah Hay score ‘What if the depth is on the surface?’ It brings the depth of the performers’ world to the surface, in all its glitter and grunge.  This allows the audience to embrace it at any moment, to become apart of it, to move toward the power of individuation and to be seduced by the joys of the mass. It proposes exciting and divergent possibilities to be ‘with’ the performance, and disrupts any sense of situation for the audience – we have to move with them.

 

All of this was possible through the STELLAR performances by the cast Rebecca Jensen (who was particularly brilliant in the subtlety of her shifting performance), Sarah Aiken, Janine Proust and Rachel Coulson.

 

 

An Ethics of Touch

by Jana Perkovic

Dancehouse diary← Issue #08: Dance and Ethics.

I am writing from a Europe still distressed by the attack on the editorial offices of Charlie hebdo, french satirical magazine, by two self-fashioned islamists. The attack resulted in twelve deaths, and a momentary, but astronomical, increase in sales for the magazine, which rose from the usual circulation of about 60 000 to seven million. The ‘Survivors issue’ was published in six languages and distributed in twenty-five countries. The debate has raged about whether Charlie hebdo was an expression of ‘our’ treasured freedom of speech, or a small group of white men making cheap shots at one of Europe’s most disadvantaged religious minorities. By now, it is a question exhausted of all but emotional power, and it has exhausted us all; but tension still reverberates across the continent. Even my landlady believes we are at war.

This is a war in which ‘we’, the West, are supposedly hurling pens at the armed enemy, even though Corey Oakley correctly pointed out (http://redflag.org.au/ article/charlie-hebdo-and-hypocrisy-pencils ) that it was not pens delivered from the West in recent years that left hundreds of thousands dead in Iraq, Afghanistan and Gaza. I am writing from this ‘West’, in which only a few years ago audiences coming out of Queer Festival in Zagreb had to be protected by the police. In the same France that rallied around the cry #jesuischarlie, only in 2011 various far-right groups tried to block the entry to Théâtre de la Ville to prevent access to performances of Romeo Castellucci’s ‘On the concept of Face, regarding the Son of God’, because they deemed it blasphemous. I am writing from the ‘West’ in which the common understanding of our treasured public sphere as a place of passionate political confrontation: coffee houses of London, May ‘68, et cetera. Has the tradition been significantly altered when political opponents no longer exchange punches in a cafe, but occupy theatre stages, or shoot? ‘Why hasn’t the French royal family condemned the terror?’, rhetorically asked British artist Momus (http://mrstsk.tumblr.com/post/107583346328 ), reminding us that the motif of the downtrodden citizen, rising up in arms, has its place in French historyPublic sphere as understood by the ‘West’ indispensably includes art, with its perceived power to mobilise bodies in waves of confrontation. What followed the Charlie Hebdo massacre was marches, spontaneous and less spontaneous protests, fuelled by new satirical cartoons. National and European institutions across Europe held a minute of silence – yet another kind of collective performance, bodies huddled together in quiet resistance. Khalid Amine noted that a similar shifting of the territory of combat took place in the Middle East in 2011: the image of the immolated street vendor first multiplied online, published through Facebook groups and websites, and yet: “if all Arabs sat by their keyboards there would have been no Arab Spring.”

What is the ethical clout of art in these extreme situations?

Standard art criticism is not very helpful in elucidating this interaction between paper and place, between representation and presence, between a single work of art and a roaring mass of bodies, because it is beholden to literature – in particular, a nineteenth-century concept of literature as a solitary, individual activity.

Matthew Arnold could understand the ethical role of art only as an imprint of the whispering author’s voice on the soul of the sole reader, instilling empathetic identification with characters in a story.

Apart from the most classical nineteenth-century forms, this approach does not elucidate either the political or the ethical aspects of performance. Theatre is the most public of art forms because theatre is first and foremosta space, and the empathetic connection between the work and the audience is primarily physical, borne out of co-presence. Performance and dance, like a rally, mobilise bodies.
It is only when confronted with dance, long divorced from the requirements of representation and storytelling, that we can truly contemplate how negligible the distance is between the ‘West’ and our supposed enemies. The Western tradition of art ethics has little to say about dance that is not profoundly immersed in Christian asceticism: lascivious pleasure of touch between strangers, eliciting lustful thoughts, a mechanism of wooing and sex stimuli, ad nauseam. Even Cicero: “No man who is sober dances, unless he is out of his mind, either when alone or in any decent society, for dancing is the companion of wanton conviviality, dissoluteness, and luxury.”

Our thought has not developed much further since the Inquisition. Even if we do not go to the lengths of the Saudi morality police, imprisoning wedding parties for dancing, the ‘West’ is yet to develop a positive ethics of dance. From dance movement therapy to Ohad Naharin’s gaga, therapeutic properties of dance tend to be explained with the borrowed vocabulary of yoga and meditation.

In April 2012, a neo-Christian organisation ‘In the Name of the Family’ tried to ban the closing party of Queer Festival Zagreb, citing its promotional material as hateful (the poster and title satirised the organisation, and its recent campaign to ban gay marriage). It is interesting here that the perceived offense of the printed page was used to attack not the performance festival itself, but its official party – as if, perhaps, this sociable mobilisation of bodies on the dance floor presented a far greater threat than the mobilisation of bodies in the somewhat inaccessible queer art in the program. ‘In the Name of the Family’ thus joined the loosely organised alliance for the censorship of queer bodies in Croatia, which had, in the past, attacked pride parades, post-parade parties, queer couples on the street, the gay marriage, and yet only occasionally an art performance. The blasphemy (because the argument was always for traditional Christian values) was not perceived in art, but it was perceived in the everyday, non-representational display of queer bodies – or, rather, bodies displaying their erotic and emotional queerness in public space, as if they were leaving sticky, contagious traces behind. The argument used was logo-centric (hate speech on posters), but the actual target were real bodies in real space. Perhaps the neo-Christians felt sufficiently infected with sex stimuli, without even coming to dance.

My students note (correctly) that it is usually less dangerous to stage an outrageously offensive drag performance, than to walk home afterwards in the same clothes, and this points to the simple truth about the political effectiveness of performance: as soon as we frame an event as art, it loses some of its destabilising power. None of this is to say that representation is unimportant – both to the gay kid in Zagreb seeing an image of herself on stage, and to the attackers of the Charlie Hebdo offices. However, if we neglect the physical, embodied dimension of the encounter with the representation, we are missing out on the most important aesthetic dimension of live performance. The LGBT activists kissing in front of the pope, a million people lighting candles in Paris, a dance floor full of gays in a country seeped in homophobia, Charlie Hebdo cartoons in twenty-five countries instead of one, or a single man self-immolating on a square in Tunisia – these are not simply images, but events in which the bystander is infected, implicated, not left untouched by the currents of energy, and perhaps empathy.

Susan Sontag notes, in ‘Regarding the Pain of Others’, that photography, through reproduction and ever- increasing distance from source, decontextualises and disembodies, renders life abstract, and by doing so renders us ever more numb in front of knowledge of other people’s suffering. Abstraction, a sin shared by all mass media, is a sin unavailable to performance: by definition, live performance is always only bringing us closer to other people. In a world saturated with mediatised image, a world in which suffering can be switched off with a button, there is, I honestly believe, something immensely healing about live performance, with its stubborn resistance on real bodies in real proximity to real bodies. When Jerome Bel has disabled performers talk about the fears of their parents that they are being objectified on stage, this is no longer a purely intellectual question. When Bryonny Kimmings brings her niece on stage to talk about the sexualisation of children, her grief and anger affect us physically.

Instead of insisting on the masculine, disembodied notion of ‘public sphere’ as a political space in which we cultivate rationality as the highest expression of our ‘Western’ value, perhaps we should embrace the concept of ‘affective public sphere’, a space of emotional exchange in which we ought to make room for grief, anger, sadness, love.

I studiously avoided all rituals of collective defiance in the aftermath of Charlie Hebdo – protests, gatherings, minutes of silence – as they seemed to flatten the emotional complexity of the moment into an untrue, post-rationalised simplification that would lead to scapegoating, divisiveness, and further violence. Nataša Govedić notes that, if being silent about feelings is the norm, talking about feelings has to be, by definition, queer. In the emotionally repressed, somewhat macho Australia of 2014, the most revolutionary work I saw was Sarah Aiken and Rebecca Jensen’s Overworld, a freeform, participatory fantasia that immerses the audience in a lush cocktail of physical sensations, guided dance, imposed dress-ups and tenderness. It is a girly, playful, emotionally rich work, and it does more than simply put these values on display – it breaks our protective walls to immerse us in sensory exploration, affection, lightness, a feeling of safety. It is of no surprise that Aiken and Jensen’s Overworld draws inspiration from a variety of sources totally foreign to the tradition of Western enlightenment, and routinely trivialised: kundalini yoga, witchery workshops, pagan rituals. In the ‘West’, we do not value deregulated states of affective exploration, curiosity and connection with others, not more than the Saudi police. And this may be precisely the state to remember to cultivate when we are called on to be righteous, to be angry and to retaliate.

What the ‘West’ needs is an ethics of touch.

 

 

 

 

The body, seen & seeing

Varia Karipoff

RealTime Arts - Magazine - issue 126 -

http://www.realtimearts.net/article/126/11894

 

Rebecca Jensen & Sarah Aiken, Overworld

There are two scenes that capture the audience in Overworld, an interchangeably blithe and scathing take on popular culture and alternative spirituality. The first is the opening scene when the four performers are tightly enshrined in a pentagram constructed from a rainbow of op shop detritus. From a foetal position they become activated, awakening physically and mystically in a primal, pulsing and (seemingly) un-ironic fashion before unleashing chants that sound like three-second sound grabs from YouTube videos.

The second scene is the climax, where playful chasing and orgiastic discarding of costumes gives way to a frenzied altercation between two performers. The defeated is left lying naked and wounded—I saw welts on her skin. The sounds of the scuffle are recorded on mobile phones and played back—the phones placed at rest in coloured glass vases like oil lamps in a temple, distressed female cries wafting out instead of smoke. The effect is just as voyeuristic and uncomfortable as seeing the crumpled body lying prone. Incongruously, the victim then rises to eat an ice cream offered from a crystal plate. With the performer playing goddess and victim, the feminine is explored in the context of religious ceremony and pop culture. This idea is returned to in the closing scene, where the quartet ham it up to rap music, notorious for both objectifying and empowering women.

There was a jerky transition when the note-perfect ceremonial-type chanting cut to a lengthy and odd audience participation exercise. Despite this touch of chaos, Aiken and Jensen hit gold when examining the right to access mythic traditions in contemporary terms.

 
 
 
 
 
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