Dusseldorf-based Alexandra Waierstall is a conceptual artist/choreographer whose work could fit equally in a theatre, gallery, museum or on the page. Intimate, subtle and minimal, her choreography focusses on the body as a surface that adapts and reacts to whatever it encounters in space.
For And here we meet, Waierstall explores themes of extinction through the impact of humans on the earth’s geology and ecosystems. Two female bodies, Dani Brown and Evangelia Randou weave in and out of lighting and sound while the narrative written by Waierstall and performer Dani Brown is a significant force.
Brown enters the stage, telling a story about birds circling around a planet, but being unable to land, as there is no land. Her voice is melodic, soothing, nuanced. She perfunctorily sheds her clothes, composed in her nakedness yet momentarily vulnerable, but her softy spoken words are so riveting that they seem to envelop her like clothing. Through her fictional narrative she leads us to a planet, 100 million years into the future, asking us to imagine that we are sophisticated scientific explorers. We discover that the planet looks remarkably like earth, is teaming with animals and plants and mainly covered by water. On closer scrutiny buried in the layers of rock we discover fossils of mobile phones, computers, paperclips and airplanes, while plastic covers everything. All these new metals and rare earth elements exist in the earth’s strata but we notice that there has been a mass extinction of some 50,000 species.
Waierstall references the proposed epoch known as the Anthropocene: the age of the human, in which mass extinction of plant and animal species, global warming and destruction of the planet have been brought about by the greed and aggression of (specifically) the male species. She chooses a non-confrontational meeting between two women perhaps in a dystopian future to try and make sense of what has happened.
Brown performs sequences of pedestrian movement running on the spot, turning to face different directions. Or swinging her arms, she rocks on the spot like a female Vitruvian man. She walks through the space, mobilising the installation of low hanging light bulbs so that light creates a myriad of shadows. Lying on the floor she contorts her body into fossil-like sculptural poses, as the dim lighting falls on its creases, bones and musculature. Visually it’s very arresting.
There are moments of stillness, silence and reflection, a welcome break from the text which while fascinating, nevertheless dominates the performance. Then Brown’s voice becomes different, a deep-south American drawl as she describes the final devastation of planet earth – the effects of tsunamis, earthquakes, nuclear explosions.
Towards the end of the short work, another naked body appears, that of Randou, and the two women cautiously approach and circle around each other before making contact. It’s a duet which is tentative, delicate and ambiguous – like the piece as a whole. Brown leaves the space and Randou continues, her partially-lit, diminutive frame slipping away into the darkness of the stage.
While thematically and visually intriguing, And here we meet lacks coherence in its opaqueness. There’s a disconnect between text and the subtle movement which is distancing and disorientating. But maybe that’s how we will feel in years to come when we visit the ruins of our existence.