BY ANUJA MITRA
“It’s watching one woman trying to create her own feminist futurism. So in a nutshell, basically trying to break the space/time continuum.”
This is how Nisha Madhan, co-creator and director of Working On My Night Moves, describes her latest collaboration with friend and fellow theatre-maker Julia Croft. The show — which is more live artwork than conventional theatre piece — was developed at Battersea Arts Centre in London and is set to run at Auckland’s Basement Theatre in March.
It forms the third part of a trilogy of acclaimed shows starring Julia as the solo performer, all of which revolve around a strong feminist theme. The first, If There’s Not Dancing At The Revolution, I’m Not Coming was inspired by film theorist Laura Mulvey’s concept of the male gaze. Rich with references to popular culture, the show challenged female representation in mainstream media, in particular, the treatment of women’s bodies. The second show, Power Ballad — which featured Nisha as co-creator and director — drew on the work of writers Audre Lorde and Kathy Acker. Where If There’s Not Dancing critiqued our cultural vocabulary, Power Ballad delved deeper to interrogate how patriarchal structures are embedded within language itself.
Night Moves goes bigger and bolder. It lifts its eyes from discussions about representation or language to look forward to a potential feminist future, to leave behind the troubles of current society and jet off into outer space. “We’ve said a lot with anger and frustration and now we’re asking what else might be possible, or what it would look like if we took things into our hands,” Nisha says. “What is it to dream of a new world when all we have is a world that has been painted for us by patriarchal forces?” A world without these power structures may seem impossible — but there’s still beauty in imagining. Not so much political as “magical and dreamlike”, Nisha says the show invites us to envision universes that could have been and might still be. Instead of staying seated, audiences walk around the space with Julia, watching her use her tools as an artist to escape the constraints that tie her down. Night Moves aims to be more of an experience than a show, and the team have been working closely with designer Meg Rollandi to build this atmosphere of play and possibility.
Yet while Night Moves aims for the skies, it also goes deeper thematically than other shows in the trilogy. In questioning power this time around, the show’s creators wanted to question truth in general: The narratives of truth defined by those who hold power (usually white men) and even the ‘fundamental’ truths given to us by science. What if there’s more to the story than these things we hold absolutely certain? A key inspiration for the show was feminist theorist Karen Barad, who questions Newtonian physics “to its absolute core”. “It’s not to say that Newtonian physics are full of bullshit. It’s just to say that there is a point to making trouble for these sets of rules that have governed our lives for a long time that actually aren’t that firm or fixed either.” The show seeks to open up new perspectives on what it is to be in the world, and not just physically. Many social pressures faced by women centre around their bodies. Nisha says she and Julia wanted to explore “how to disperse the atoms of this politicised body and be a non-body, or be nothing for a while”.
It’s obvious that Working On My Night Moves isn’t going to be your typical night out. Nisha is comfortable making eccentric and experimental works since she feels that this is the only way she can reflect her own “messy and chaotic” way of seeing the world. Julia is on the same page, and the two have long been interested in pushing the boundaries of theatre, challenging its inherent power structures and investigating the relationship between performer and audience. Their last boundary-breaking show Power Ballad won acclaim in the UK, Canada and Australia. Do they want to take this show overseas? “Definitely!”
While it’s showing here, though, Nisha encourages you to enter the theatre and leave your possessions at the door (though you can take your wine in, of course). After that, you can just immerse yourself in the journey. “It’s really an experience more than us telling you what to think. It’s a place for you to relax and enjoy, and hopefully you come up to the stars with us.”
Working On My Night Moves runs at the Basement Theatre in Auckland from 3rd – 26th March. Click here to get your tickets!
ANUJA MITRA is a Law/Arts student trying to fit creative endeavours into her never-ending degree. Full-time nerd and avocado enthusiast; she is probably currently ranting about something, re-organising her bookshelves or petting her multiple cats.
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