White Porcelain Doll (Prying Eye Productions)
Judith Wright Centre, Performance Space
July 28 – August 2
Dance is a pure and honest way of communicating. However, that which makes it enthralling can also render it distributing and difficult to watch. This is the case with the dark tale that is “White Porcelain Doll”, the first full-length work from husband and wife duo Lizzie and Zaimon Vilmanis of Prying Eye Productions, current artists-in-residence at the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts.
Billed as a fairy tale based on true horror stories of women held as long-term captives by men, the show was inspired by real life stories of Stockholm syndrome. It is confronting subject matter for dance theatre and while the reality of its real-life account inspiration is chilling, at times the interpretation is too abstract to allow the audience to follow all the nuances of its narrative.
More movement, than dance, the choreography is full of animalistic actions, which is in keeping with the show’s aim to examine the emerging instinct that enables some victims to survive rather than succumb. Lizzie Vilmanis is an independent choreographer and dancer of pedigree, thanks to her work with Expressions Dance Company and there is no denying her talent on stage. As the hostage, she delivers a powerful and physically demanding, yet sinuous performance with emotional range from innocence and fragility, to panic and terror and then frustration and determination. However, with only limited glimpses of her face, it is difficult to engage with her character in an empathetic way.
As the captor, Zaimon is a show of strength from his first solo scene, moving around a stage set sparsely with only a metal box, armchair and draped sundress. When she appears and he attempts to dress her, her struggles lead to her being dumped in the box. Thus begins her terrifying and isolated journey, told through a series of vingettes and freeze-framed stillness.
Whilst I was unsure what to make of much of the content of the show, there is no denying the talents of its performers. The partnering routines are fluid and it is frustrating that the work includes so little contemporary dance. Rather, as a cross-arts performance piece, it uses music, movement, sound and video arts to convey its chilling story. Superb lighting, simple staging and an unobtrusive soundscape combine to create its unsettling, haunting experience; however, it is the simulated violence of projections that are amongst the most confrontingly memorable moments. In contrast, a disconnect between music and movement makes it difficult to maintain absorption, especially as themes are repeated and show’s pace drags.
There is no denying that “White Porcelain Doll” represents an uncomfortably-voyeuristic experience for its audience. Prying Eye states that they wish to take their audiences on a journey to the other side, the one farthest from their thoughts, and in this exploration of the power play between perpetrator and his broken doll victim, they have certainly succeeded. Its disturbing themes might not be for everyone; however, they are guaranteed to garner a reaction. And isn’t this the measure of all true art?