Dreams of the Small Gods

Zinnia Oberski’s arresting body doesn’t shy away from being seen, hanging like a carcass from her trapeze in the clinical Demonstration Room of Summerhall. This is a confrontational piece, not only for its persistent nudity but for its drawn out movement and lack of speech, forcing the audience to sit with Oberski’s images. Recalling Greek myths, ancient rituals and various spiritual practices, Oberski’s extensive research – described in the programme – was synthesised into a one-woman, gestural performance. By pairing down the trapeze act to its bare elements, Oberski’s celebration of the naked female body resisted the typically sexualised circus act. Often, in fact, her movements seemed centralised on the exposition of her genitalia to the audience, as she folded her body over the swing, covering her face with hair.

Zinnia Oberski’s arresting body doesn’t shy away from being seen

Given the richness of her source material, it often felt that Oberski’s movement wasn’t enough. Although the individual images created were powerful – reminiscent of Jenny Saville’s nude portraits – the movement felt strangely stilted and meaningless. There were moments of palpable boredom in the audience, as we watched Obserki stare at the tip of her finger. I couldn’t help wondering, at points, what the intentions behind these movements were, or wishing that there had been another dancer on stage to create a new facet of expression. Whilst the production as a whole felt like a confluence of contemporary performance art techniques and mythical sources, it felt dull in this theatre space. As with much performance art performed at the theatre, the lack of audience interaction as we sat respectfully in the stalls meant that the piece never really felt challenging, particularly because the woman/animal metaphor seems rather worn out. This was compounded by the banal sound design by Chris Gorman, which drew on Oberski’s primal imagery by using a combination of natural soundscapes and African drumming, verging on the orientalist. The lack of sonic shifts in the sound design also contributed to my sense of impatience, as Gorman employed repetitive, swelling strings and incessant, unchanging percussion. For a production with so much potential for sound, these choices felt lazy, particularly in relation to the show’s mythical sources. The lighting design added more to the piece, since Oberski’s shadow became an interesting way to view her movement, particularly in the air. In line with the show’s interest in ferality and the blurring of boundaries between human and animal, the shadow became an alternative persona on stage, yet also drew attention to the potential for another actual performer. Despite its somewhat inspiring celebration of earthy physicality, and the Divine feminine, The Dreams didn’t convey enough to enter my subconscious.

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Reviews by Elinor Arden

Summerhall

Dreams of the Small Gods

★★★
C ARTS | C venues | C place

Searching and Knowing

★★★
theSpace on North Bridge

The Girl and Her Balloon

★★★

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Performances

Location

The Blurb

Dreams of the Small Gods tells the story of the awakening of Wild Woman. Naked, unaware and unselfconscious, she explores her surroundings, more animal than human. Her growing consciousness attracts the attention of a creature from the spirit world, a primal deity who sparks her curiosity and compels her to transform. She changes her physicality, drawing power from the merging of animal, human and spirit self. Inspired by the timeless wisdom of faerie tales, mythology and ancient ritual, Dreams of the Small Gods is a blend of aerial circus, masked ritual and performance art. MadeInScotlandShowcase.com

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