Eliza Sanders


Created and Performed by Eliza Sanders

at Te Whaea National Dance and Drama Centre, 11 Hutchison Rd, Newtown, Wellington
From 13 Mar 2015 to 14 Mar 2015 

Reviewed by Chris Jannides, 14 Mar 2015


Eliza Sanders graduated last year from the New Zealand School of Dance’s contemporary dance programme. What a force she is! Compelling. Original. An emerging artist with a mature and distinct creative voice. She sings. She dances. She writes. Delivers poetic dialogue at a pace and level of clarity and confidence equal to any trained actor. Has a pliant body that is technically superb. Choreographs movement that is intricately tied to its narrative without ever seeming superfluous or gratuitous. Switches from insane eccentricity to intense poignancy as quickly as turning a light on and off. And possesses a depth and range of imagination in this hour long solo that is never short of content, variety and surprise. Virtuosic, herculean, mercurial, clever and generous. Well deserving of the standing ovation given her by an audience mostly made up of peers, tutors and other close friends and colleagues watching the debut of a new and important creative talent in our dance and performance landscape.

What Eliza masters and showcases in Pedal.Peddle is an ability to morph words, images, ideas and movement in an accumulating stream of consciousness that winds its way through a journey of displacement, rejection, anxiety and reflection without ever losing its way. This is a superb piece of crafting.

The work is intimate. A person alone. There are common motifs, common that is to theatrical environments I’ve seen before. A suitcase. Clotheslines. The latter are strung up across the space and get strips of multi-coloured material hung on them alongside images and postcards. Are these memories? Snapshots of the past? One line gets an assorted array of brassieres attached to it to the accompaniment of ‘ha ha’s’ and ‘he he’s’. We all laugh with her. Comedy is a strong element throughout. It counterpoints the personal element perfectly. Yet doesn’t in any way undermine or diminish the intensity or sobriety of other moments.

There are highlights galore that attach easily on the clothesline of our own memories. A totally bizarre plucked chicken that she makes by crawling into stretch material that then waddles and rolls in hysterical plump clumsiness while talking to us about… Well I was too distracted by the image to remember what she was talking to us about! It was a cross between the freaky chickens in David Lynch’s Eraserhead and a heavily distorted moa-emu cross from some kind of Pixar animation.

Birds are a recurring motif. As well as butterflies. Flight. Fleet. Aircraft. Leaving. A glorious moment where she flies around the space with her colourful patchwork costume billowing and streaming out behind her. A long bridal train that she is both fleeing and seeking. A butterfly emblazoned.

This is a bits and pieces woman. Spurned by a lover. Falling apart. A lone mirror on the ground doubles as water and a place for self-examination. Narcissus-like, questions are raised about the coldness and cruelty of love. Desire unrequited. We hear: ‘No matter how hot she gets, she has a hard time melting ice’.

The costume, originally wrapped around her like a cocoon out of which she unravels, is in the end discarded leaving her naked – well almost. There is the humorous image here of a topless woman in black underwear beneath a canopy of coloured bras, all of which she ignores. Preferring instead to cut and slash herself with a paintbrush and black paint. Scarring and smearing her body. She puts the paintbrush between her teeth and paints movement on her body with her mouth. A perfect visual metaphor for the poetic speech that has been issuing from it previously.

There is lovely pathos in this work. From the remotest clothesline a small paper butterfly is removed and held above the mirror-lake, now painted black. The butterfly is dropped into the water that is ‘clear’, but not. She exits through the audience singing and battered, but with a resigned sense of triumph.

What I value in this performance is the successful mixing of surreal and absurd images with very literal content about a human situation of loneliness and growth. Art tackles anxiety and confusion in a full-bodied performance onslaught that leaves no element disentangled from the rest. The cleverness here is impressive and stimulating. Songs by Edith Piaf and others – with titles such as: ‘Aching to Pupate’, ‘I Shouldn’t Care’, ‘My Manic and I’ – are sung without musical accompaniment. Eliza’s is a confident plaintive voice that slices though the space with the same clarity as her equally as expressive choreography. Choreography that is spiralling, intricate, reaching, anxious, throbbing, elastic, open, awkward, lyrical, torn, uncoordinated, analytical, dynamic.

This work is about a kinetics and a poetics of performance that should be responded to with other poetry. Here is mine, stripped from the notes I took in the dark:

“coming up next we have…”
Like a smiling pretender
Finding self
Finding face
She sings about ‘him’
Morning is mocking me
Shock of soft female flesh openly lit and exposed downstage
She is stabbed by softness
No need to fear the water is clear here dear.

Don’t be impatient to see Eliza’s work, because I am certain there is a lot more of it to come. I am certainly hoping this.

Actually, change that. Be impatient. I’d love you to check for yourself the richness of this artist’s work.