REVIEW: Mammoth (The Basement)

Review by Cynthia Lam

[Hair and Now]

As artist in residence for the Basement this year, Mammoth is Tallulah Holly-Massey’s second work following Tender is the NightMammoth is a poetic and intimate display that combines the art of dance, story-telling and multi-media.  A ‘supernatural hair dance’ presented by four talented performers — Sione Fataua, Ariaana Osborne, Arlo Gibson and Benjamin Mitchell — Mammoth is an investigation into hair as a signifier of social, cultural, and sexual identity.

Beginning with a video that was played on a piece of white fabric celebrating all types of hair — thick blond crimped hair, black mangled hair, hair arranged into cone and square shapes, finishing with a close-up of a strand of hair being plucked out of its follicle with a pair of tweezers (which left the audience cringing with laughter) — it set the theme and tone for the piece to follow.  This was followed with a great dance movement by Benjamin Mitchell whose upper-body contortions and isolation techniques left me in awe.  Combined with the music, it made me think of the beginnings of the universe with the performer likened to a sea creature emerging from the depths of the earth and finally triumphing.

What I enjoyed most about the performance was the juxtaposition of seemingly contrasting elements, and the music chosen played an integral part of this.  The juxtaposition of a 1960s pop song with a performer who has a dead-pan expression on her face from a seemingly dystopian world evokes a rather uncanny and disturbing effect.

The performers work well together, with some segments showcasing how two or more bodies can work and leverage against one another.  The theme of hair and playing with hair is constantly returned to. Subtle humour is interspersed throughout; for example, towards the climax of the performance, the bare set and space is highlighted when a hanging microphone is placed so close to the side of the wall that the performer keeps on clambering and falling off the steps.

I did not detect a set storyline for this performance and the segments seemed fragmented at times.  There were moments in which I wondered what this all had to do with the theme of hair, but somehow, when the climax arrived, something hit me and it suddenly all came together.  We all have our own interpretations for this evocative and poetic piece, but for me, it is about what it means to be human.  It got me thinking about the struggle and pains of life, and yes, we may be clumsy and not very good at it, but perhaps we can all lean on and embrace one another.  Perhaps this is what this intimate show is about: hair as mana, as the ever present life force, and the ability to laugh at the absurdity of it all.

Mammoth is a new movement work by Tallulah Holly-Massey and plays at Basement Theatre until July 21. 

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