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Pedal & Castles - House of Sand
21 May 2016, BATS Theatre, Wellington

Reviewed by Leah Maclean




House of Sand is a new and emerging company with ties in both Australia and New Zealand. A collaboration between brother and sister, Charles Sanders as Dramaturge and Eliza Sanders as dancer, choreographer and visual artist. Eliza brings her fresh, young attitude to the stage in two solo works – Pedal and Castles. Both pieces are directly and indirectly linked with the similar aesthetics creating a smooth transition between each.  However, it is non-essential to watch one before the other as both come across as being a totally non-linear, brain dump of ideas.

Pedal opens with Eliza slinking onto the stage carrying a battered, brown suitcase and wrapped in a technicolour garment of rags. She delights the audience with a hilarious, high-speed monologue, a list of items needed in transit “ticket, money, passport, keys”. As the list grows longer, the speed increases until eventually it becomes a garbled, loud mess. This instance sets the tone for the remainder of the performance; absolute chaos.   

Her use of spoken word, song and dance flow together at times seamlessly and other times pointlessly. Her brays of random, somewhat unconnected words are confusing and a simulated sex scene is a little bit uncomfortable. There is so much happening that it’s overwhelming and assaulting. However, the emotion is there and the Requiem for a Dream type moments stick with you. The disturbing, one-woman rendition of TV advertisements and drivel content is reminiscent of Darren Aronofsky’s freakish film. Occasions like these make one question whether her work is a social commentary or a self-commentary – but the beauty of Eliza’s work is, it’s really down to the individual to draw their own conclusions.

In a beautiful slice of choreography she writhes and performs acts of contortion on the floor, within the motions unfurling the technicolour garment until it is a long, striking train. On her feet again she whirls around the stage, faster and faster with the patchwork dress fanning out behind her, very nearly whiplashing front row audience members. It is a captivating sight.

The piece ends with Eliza in a state of mental disillusionment. She is standing half-naked and covering herself in black paint, the strokes of the brush long and aggressive. This is accompanied by a haunting song, sung by herself, which carries on as she slowly moves out of the theatre. This is an excellent use of space and powerful conclusion. Where is she going? What is she doing? Is she okay?
Pedal proves that Eliza is a triple threat with her soothing vocals, comedic acting and her lithe movements, so in tune with herself and her body. One can’t but help feel a curiosity for what kind of beautiful disaster she has next.

Castles opens where Pedal left off, half naked and covered in thick strokes of black paint. This next installment is very much within the same vision as its predecessor. Completely random and frenzied, with interludes of song and Tourette’s like outbursts of words (Hugh Laurie drives a lorry… Gay men love Kate Bush…. EAT!). Castles also shows off more of Eliza’s choreography, her movement ranging from beautiful and eloquent to totally erratic and mad; but it is all done with refined precision. It is the use of her hands which draw the eye in. 

The patchwork makes its way back into this set, this time in the form of a rag-doll, ungendered being. She engages in a sweetly choreographed ballroom dance with the life-size prop, perhaps an indication of a missing love or desire for love and/or connection. But, in an unsurprising turn, the sweetness is cut short when, like a magician pulling ribbons from a hat, she tears into the limbs of the being and draws out lengths and lengths of knotted rags. With these lengths she pegs them onto the two lines running across the stage and creates a cobweb of multi-colour. She weaves and tangles herself and she imitates a yappy little dog on a leash. There is more barrage of text and moments of fine choreography. But it is difficult to really pinpoint what the work is trying to achieve, if anything.

Eliza is a tour-de-force on stage, non-stop with perhaps too many ideas running rampant. Speaking to her brother and House of Sand co-Artistic Director afterwards, even he is in awe by the energy and eruption of creativity the pint sized performer exerts on stage. Pedal and Castles definitely live up to the nonsensical, ‘stream-of-consciousness’ description, and for some audiences it may not have a desired effect; mutters of confusion float around after the show. However, as a young performer it is difficult not to appreciate her explorative approach and the need to challenge herself and the audience. And her ability to work so adeptly across disciplines cannot be ignored. The works reflect a quirky, ‘take-no-prisoners’ kind of personality and I’m sure with time and experience Eliza will come to be able to hone these traits and use them in the most remarkable ways.

Read more about Eliza here...

House of Sand - Pedal & Castles Review

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