The Yard in Hackney Wick where Woman SRSLY has presented their platforms over the last year is a vital hub for young, happening artists. With its warehouses, studios, performance spaces, cafes, bars, community programmes, classes, performances and workshops it feels a hip, dynamic and interactive community which has rejuvenated the area around Hackney Wick station. Discovering it reminded me of what Kreuzberg in Berlin is and what Williamsburg in NYC used to be like before property developers and smart restaurants moved in.
Woman SRSLY, formed by Grace Nicol, Holly Beasley-Garrigan, Becky Namgauds, Claudia Palazzo, Alice White and Valerie Ebuwa enables platforms for female-identified and socialised female artists, curating evenings of interdisciplinary work which include film, dance, cabaret, theatre and music – all of which focus on female empowerment. The events produced by this impressive group of women artists, writers and choreographers feel welcoming and inclusive, while challenging identity inequality in performance. The collective also provides mentoring and networking support and is becoming increasingly more visible through social media.
On Thursday night I saw a variety of acts which took place both in the spacious yet intimate Yard theatre and outside in its cool foyer/bar area. Here DJ Steph Be created a sassy vibe with her art-club music both before and after the performances, enhancing the already charged atmosphere. A great turn out of mainly young artists and performers made for an enthusiastic audience.
In spite of a few minor techy hitches, the evening ran smoothly which is admirable considering how different each sketch was. The capable technical team of Woman SRSLY, very visible in colourful dungarees as they worked behind the scenes, was another attraction. Women clearly run the show at Women SRSLY with an energy that feels like one that fuels a new movement similar to the early feminist groups of the70’s as they activated for change, new opportunities and visibility for women.
Valerie Ebuwa, performer/ writer, hosted the evening and speaking to a full house, introduced each performance in her ebullient, charismatic style while the Resident Movement Girlband, The Yonis, make sure that interludes and transitions are filled by their quirky, comical interventions. Colourful, in their suits, like models for a Benetton advert, The Yonis work with the theme of birthday surprises. Gathering around a cake with grimacing expressions and shouts for photos, striking freeze-framed sculptural poses and giggling raucously they are a mixture of noisy Riot Grrrls and a comedic chorus.
Woman SRSLY’s first international guest is Klara Andersson, a singer/poet from Sweden whose melancholic haunting voice is treated through samplers, synthesizers and an electric guitar. She adeptly manipulates a range of music technology while using a bow to play her guitar. It’s intriguing listing to the Swedish lyrics; I don’t understand them but love the sound of their cascading phonetics. Her songs never break away from Nordic heaviness but avoid labelling, sitting somewhere between pop and sound art. When she communicates torment and agony through her striking vocal chords, her body remains minimal and restrained.
Victoria Rucinska explores her mixed Polish/Guyanese heritage retelling the story of Mary, a 75 year old Guyanese poet. Puppeteers Rucinska and Natalie Sloth Richter support the black grandmother puppet with tenderness and skill as they help her physicalize her tales. Mary’s voice talks of poverty, domestic violence and survival. One puppeteer manipulates her hands, the other her head and body – connected together with nothing but choreography. Mother Smith is a moving performance, told through the clever integration of mime, voice-over and music. Especially moving is the metaphor of death where the old woman’s head, hands and body fly regally off into space.
Emily Warner whose work has been mentored by Holly Beasley-Garrigan gives NOT IT (a work I stole from Beckett) the Samuel Beckett treatment but marks her own female stamp on it. Emerging from the audience topless, she dresses in a heavy monks clock tied with rope, climbs onto a step ladder and reads from her script. Whitened lips, framed by a spotlight, accentuates her voice and words which spill rhythmically from it. Warner gives a strong, comical if bamboozling performance, displaying linguistic randomness, wordplay and word association. Female pronouns in her text are emphasised making sure that female embodiment is high on the agenda throughout the monologue.
Symone, a dancehall and circus diva, displays her sinewy agility both inside and outside hoops, against a backdrop of incoherent films clips, animations and adverts. There is a hypnotic quality to her performance, a calmness and reflectiveness as she spins a hoop from her extended foot. Next, she gyrates two hoops around her torso while her arms spin in a different direction, unfalteringly mesmeric and self-possessed. Fascinatingly raw work and seemingly unfinished, Symone abruptly leaves the stage as if she’s just had enough, making us want more.
Outside in the foyer, there’s also a short film in the interval by Rachel Ni Bhraonain which is inspired by Irish women’s reactions to the Repeal of the 8th Amendment which finally made abortion legal in Southern Ireland. The Undecided Vote contains abstract choreography that is sensitively filmed so as to identify a diverse group of Irish women, united by their loose, ritual movement and the possibility of new choices.
It was an evening of powerful, unusual works which although felt uncooked and disconnected were nevertheless explosive with skill and creativity. What I also loved about it was that none of the acts fitted into neat categories but spilled out through porous art boundaries. Overall the really important theme that did unite all these very different contributions was that they were made and performed by young women. I left feeling optimistic about seeing this younger generation of inventive women in action. And maybe my reaction was similar to those who witnessed the experimental, feminist focussed New Dance performances of the X6 collective in Butlers Wharf – back in the 1970s and ‘80s.