From The Ground Up traces one protagonist's, Bethany Miller, vacillating journey from distress through a tumultuous relationship to the elements, both interpretable as a human-to-earth connection piece, and as a metaphor for the protagonist’s shifting relationship to herself. Her journey lands at a simple yet significant moment of clarity, where a sureness of connection to the stars gives her courage to pare back her expectation and appreciate herself for just being ok. This moment is a welcome landing point, presenting the tiny glimpses of ease that make up the life support for someone who is struggling to heal their relationship with themselves.
Miller's movement is hypnotizing as she interacts with a flowing chorus of elemental goddesses (Courtney Rose Brown, Lizzie Murray, Briana Jamieson) to explore the inevitable ups and downs of hurt and healing, and its resonance with the correlating experiences of the living world around us. Like earth, water, air and fire, humans are made to change and be changed! We build, destroy, and rebuild ourselves constantly by shedding skins, shape-shifting and transcending scale as external forces puppet us. We are suffocating in compassionate fatigue for the world’s too-big hurt, gasping for air as panic attacks us, and somehow ultimately finding it - somehow surviving despite all of our lostness.
With flow at the forefront of this piece, I was pleased to see traditional climactic narrative patterns traded in for a more curvaceous, fluid, call-and-response framework reflecting the connection between earthen and human trauma, finding momentum to guide us through each element’s capacity for first hurting and then healing.
The performers did well to contend with a concrete floor and a struggling sound system. I wonder how a better volume level might have allowed us to drown in, rather than strain to hear, the recorded poetry set provocatively to sound. I’m excited to see the bold wahine behind this work grow their form to be juxtapositional rather than double percussive – to create a rich cross section of visual and verbal poetry that ignites rather than reiterates, so that we might experience a tension that resonates with our multifaceted and complex relationship to ourselves and to the world around us.
I was curious that the piece favoured an ethereal softness over any grounded grittiness or roughness. I couldn’t help but wonder if there was a volatility, a mischievousness, an ugliness missing from the exploration of healing, to characterize the frustration and regression, to cut through the soothing quality that seems to overpopulate our romantic idea of what it takes to ease a mental storm.
I wanted the pain, the loneliness, the tussle for connection to self and to environment and the kaupapa of hopefulness in this work to be shared with me as an audience member. I craved to be included in the connection which was so inherent in the choreography, wanted it to be communicated straight to me through eye contact, vulnerability, and proximity in this venue, which could have lent itself to more intimacy than end-on staging brought. I wanted to feel seen by the protagonist or the elemental creatures she contended with, to feel whipped, held, surrounded, burnt, quenched, pleaded with and inflated by the living world in the way that the protagonist is. Without context to ground this form in, an audience needs connection to hold tight to in order to bring us as individuals with our own personal experiences into the world of the work. To overcome the pain and shame connected to hurt, it takes presence, connection and a willingness to look vulnerability in the eye – and the piece makes me wonder how might this healing be reflected in form? What active role might breath play in communicating the viscerality of our existence?
Although I’m only just lured into this work when it finishes, at only a 22 minute running time, I feel inspired by the way Women Aren’t Wolves have committed to starting rather than closing something here. I find this aspect of From The Ground Up's form to be a final suggestion to us as we shift quite abruptly back into the inevitable ups and downs of our own lives: to shift the stakes, step back from the big picture and take it one step at a time.
From the Ground Up is on until the 1st March at 7pm at Perservatorium Cafe and Cannery. It is Koha entry.