REVIEW: Rosemary (Auckland Fringe)

Review by Irene Corbett

[Mary Maintains her Iconic Status]

Created by Rosie Tapsell and Jazmine Rose Phillips, the multi-disciplinary dance work Rosemary presents a multifaceted attempt to demystify the Mother Mary icon.

Before the audience has even climbed the stairs to the Basement’s Studio space we are engaged in an exploration of Mary. Besides the box office is a TV screen playing a loop which alternates between a menu of prayer related options and a short video of Rosie Tapsell dancing on a distinctly West Coast beach. Opposite this screen on a bar table is a scrap book of images of Mary and some of the promotional images of Tapsell in various Madonna-esque positions; sometimes with the rosemary plant, sometimes with a mantle of blue tarpaulin. The audience is invited to add to this scrapbook, and magazines, scissors, and glue sticks are provided.

This bleeding of the show into the theatre surrounding continues in the iconographic collages made of photos and gold paint which are placed along the outer wall of the Studio. By the time we are seated for the show we are very familiar with the popular images of Mary and the large blue tarpaulin which takes up the right hand end of the stage space does not come as a surprise. A classic Catholic image of the Mother Mary surveys us from above.

The programme states that the work will break open this familiar symbol of the Mother Mary and process it with the help of rosemary, a herb known for aiding with digestion. The collection of events which follow, however, as potent as they are individually, prove less digestible as a whole.

We are pulled between dreams, soundscapes, dance, RnB music, games of Chinese whispers, and poetry. There are many props and symbols – rosemary is used as a smudge, bibles are flicked through, Tapsell dances with a spinal column and attached pelvis, Phillips paints her white nightdress with viscous red paint –and while each moment is intensely evocative I could not but help feel that Mary was missing in the midst of it all.

There is talk of giving birth to a rat, but this forbidding image is not elaborated upon or returned to.  A powerful korero in Te Reo Māori is given but the parallel between the legs of Michelangelo’s Pieta and the crushing legs of Hine-nui-te-pō is a fleeting moment, potentially lost in translation for most.  I longed for the show to continue with the exploration of the themes of motherhood, alienation, and death but just as soon as Tapsell had begun one of her frantic and visceral dances it had ended and the show veered off towards another song, or image, or poem.

The strongest and most developed image of the evening was one of water, evoked through the use of the blue tarpaulin. For most of the show it is hung in a triangle so that the performers can stand enveloped in the folds of the tarp, cloaked in practical majesty, until the string suspending it is cut, and both performers are consumed in a sea of blue polyethylene. There is stillness for a breath after the tarp has collapsed but then a gentle rolling movement begins and the tarp flows across the stage, moving from one side to another in the perfect mimicry of billowing waves. It is a moment of astonishing clarity and I was in awe of the simplicity of the action and the control it required of both performers in order for me to forget their presence under the tarpaulin. The image grows in significance when the ‘sea’ births Tapsell, suddenly changed from her previous costume of white top and pants, now in a short blood red slip. It is the birth of Venus, the birth of Christ, the birth of a rat, the birth of all humanity from the watery grave of the womb. I was enthralled and I wanted more.

Both Rosie Tapsell and Jazmine Rose Phillips are engaging and talented performers and their subject matter is so rich and giving, but there was too much ground to cover; Mary – the Virgin Mary – the Mother Mary – has so many facets. Perhaps the Catholics were right and Mary deserves her veneration, for I am no closer to understanding her than I am any other deity.

Rosemary plays at Basement Theatre until 2nd March. 

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  1. Dance performances Jan – March 2019 and associated reviews – allmyownwords

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