21 December, 2017
Campbelltown Arts Centre
24 - 25 November 2017
Artists: Angela Goh with Eugene Choi, Ellen Davies, Verity Mackey and Ivey Wawn.
“I’m now making myself as scummy as I can. Why? I want to be a poet, and I’m working at turning myself into a Seer.” - Arthur Rimbaud
“I killed Liz. I killed the teen dream. Deal with it.” - Jawbreaker
Continuing her interest in the undead, Angela Goh’s latest work Scum Ballet reimagines the tale of the Wili — a type of supernatural being in Slavic folklore made famous by the ballet Giselle. Using feminist methodologies to explore this mystical state of being, Scum Ballet’s expanded and accelerated rendition of the Wili promotes an alternative gender performativity.
In Giselle, the Wili and their Queen Myrtha portray ghostly spirits of virgin girls that have been betrayed by their lovers. Each night they haunt the forest, seducing men and ceremoniously dancing with them until they expire from exhaustion. Inopportunely, the story ends with the Wili being shamed for their ruthlessness, with the lead character Giselle abandoning the group and their behaviours to save her loved one — it is, after all, a 19th century romantic ballet.
Goh’s interpretation of the Wili folkloric tale is, on the other hand, decidedly more contemporary.
Drawing its title from Valerie Solanas’ 1967 Scum Manifesto, Goh adopts Solanas’ lucid sense of humour as she seamlessly references classical ballet, alongside horror and contemporary culture. Commissioned by the Campbelltown Art Centre, the hour-long performance is the artist’s first ensemble work and builds on the themes of female beauty, sexuality and power found in Goh’s solo work, Desert Body Creep (2016). Choreographed and performed alongside Eugene Choi, Ellen Davies, Verity Mackey and Ivey Wawn, Scum Ballet contrives subversive notions of femininity, layered with strata’s of detritus and rounded with some unapologetic returning of the gaze.
As the audience enters the performance space, five young women stand motionless, fighting to catch each audience member’s gaze. Grouped together like a formidable posy of high school girls from a teen movie — think The Craft — their presence is intimidating, as they stand united protecting their sacred place. This formation, partnered with their piercing stares, is the first ruse in a series of happenings that contribute to the performance’s brewing intensity, and I quickly recognise that Goh’s clique, or coven, will be just as seductive as Myrtha’s Wili.
The coven gains their power in numbers, partaking in a series of strange rituals underscored by Angel Ho’s piercing arrangements, working together to build an unnerving sense of impending doom. The group ceremoniously trade two pairs of brown corduroy pants embossed with silver diamantes. Once dressed, the clothed pair seductively spiral one another, each armed with a plank of wood that disturbingly skims the floor behind them, and yet contradictorily remains idle.
Utilising devices akin to horror, Goh relays an unrelenting cache of similar suspenseful and haunting moments. The anticipation of violence returns as the dancers sits centre stage in a cluster with small blades between their fingers — becoming female-like Wolverines — tenderly caressing each other. They are undoubtedly formidable, and yet simultaneously feminine and ethereal, in their demonstrations of tenderness. They never use their weapons to inflict violence on one another, but instead sling their knives across the stage as if they are protecting their space from unwanted intruders.
Continuously drawing on formations and ruses from the performative legacy of classical ballet, the choreography includes some serious laugh-out-loud moments. Take, for instance, the impeccable bourree in Adidas slides by Ellen Davies, or the very apathetic ensemble stage diagonal, with each dancer slowly running across stage whilst relaying a classical port de bras. Scum Ballet is not quite a satire and not quite an homage, but — as Angela has once prescribed herself — a cute horror, reminding me of the 1999 black comedy, Jawbreaker.
The mis en scène adopts a similar sense of absurdity, as the coven incorporate various detritus into their performance. A sheet of plywood, timber off-cuts, interlocking foam mats and a perfectly placed blue Vodka Cruiser, all add to the work’s trash aesthetic. Embracing this look in nearly every way, Scum Ballet resists the clean elegance of postmodern dance, achieving a distinctly millennial feel.
The performance reaches its apex with the dancers slipping into a hypnotic trance, almost headbanging to the relentless beat of the music. Finally revealing a glimpse of violence, the coven derails any expectations of them as women and as dancers, unashamedly throwing their bodies about to the howling of motorcycles and smashing of glass.
Seductive and mystical, Scum Ballet is a litany of lucid passes. A sort of divination, it uncovers a hidden knowledge by supernatural means.
Zoe Theodore is a writer, editor and producer living and working in Narrm, Melbourne.