Dance artist and choreographic researcher Fernanda Munoz-Newsome changes the parameters between performer and spectator. In fact in this development of her former work, Inchoate Buzz she radically challenges all binary relationships dissolving boundaries between bodies, sexualities, genders and art disciplines opening up fluid, shifting, shared and interdisciplinary environments. Curating work which features a line-up of intriguing guest artists, her unconventional set up in the Lilian Baylis transformed the studio into part nightclub-chill-out lounge, part sensual art installation. Artist/designer India Harvey’s soft fabric designs occupy the performance space like little continents of obscurely shaped bean bags, cushions and rugs. Foam, leather, velvet are some of the fabrics used to fashion her tactile sculptures, many of them shaped like large genitals.
Audience members are invited into this den of sensory and experiential delights, leaving coats and shoes at the door. Ushers ask us to wear a red wrist band if we don’t want to be touched. As I enter I know that most of my review will be a description of what I see and feel as we are all implicated as performers within the work.
Sure enough after we’ve chosen where to lie or sit on the comfortable art objects, Munoz-Newsome unobtrusively dances amongst us slippery and agile as she negotiates the contours of multiple bodies, voicing instructions. Guided gently by her we are invited to explore the terrain, to connect to other bodies and objects through touch as we encounter them. Far from didactic, her instructions are like those given during a somatic movement class or yoga wind-down. As we inhabit the space, travelling through it or pausing, we watch ourselves projected onto the cyclorama in a treated film which constantly reveals and blurs our images. Josh Anio Grigg’s hypnotic soundscape – a mix of electronic, nature and human sounds – transports me further into a dreamscape, but one that I drift in and out of, too curious an observer to surrender myself fully to its trancey charms. Audience members around me seem to be doing the same, observing, interacting apart from one couple who withdraw in a snogging fest. It’s a playground of possibilities, charged with an eroticism and longing.
Mini solos by the guest artists and other events take place sporadically throughout the evening which seem to happen on a subliminal level. I watch Eve Stainton explore desire and vulnerability across her own body in shuddering and vibrating repetitions balanced on one bent leg, supported by a couple of audience members. Her flailing arms express a precarious situation but one in which she finds safety through connection with others.
Surreptitiously Last Yearz Interesting Negro (Jamila Johnson-Small) crosses the dimly lit space, an elegant figure in their long black leather jacket, holding a watering can. Johnson-Small heads for a small crater sculpted out of black leather which they fill with water scented by essential oil before curling up in the warm liquid. It’s a beautiful, understated ritualistic moment.
Performances organically unfold, complex and alien to some, sensory and affirming for others. Rukeya purposefully yet playfully rolls and tumbles in an inflatable bean bag – everything and anything is possible in this flexible, accommodating arena. Isabel Munoz-Newsome, Fernanda’s rock musician, artist sister is also present watching, listening and intervening in subtle ways with her haunting voice. Known as the lead singer of her band, Pumarosa, tonight she takes on a different role out of the limelight, enveloped in the shadows merging with this democratic community of artists.
Central to Munoz-Newsome’s investigations is her desire to create alternative spaces and clubs which allow for queer possibilities and attempt to eradicate hierarchy. She explores agency through working with care and consent, (we ask the people around us for permission to touch) and the exploratory nature of her work lends itself more to the formats of workshop and process rather than performance. It works as long as everyone participating is open and willing to let go of conventional theatre expectations and identity boundaries. As the evening progresses slowly, surreally, the novelty of being in such an environment wears off but nevertheless leaves us immersed and full of questions.