[Moving into Light]
Developed with support from Creative New Zealand and the well-respected Battersea Arts Centre, London, Working on My Night Moves is the latest offering from Julia Croft and Nisha Madhan, which promises to be ‘a journey into outer space and an attempt to diffuse power and hierarchy.’ Presented by Basement Theatre as part of the new Basement Visions programme to support Mid-Career artists, this ambitious premise is delivered with unflinching creative vision and succeeds in building new social relations with and between the audience.
Working on My Night Moves completes a trilogy for Julia Croft comprised of If There’s Not Dancing at the Revolution, I’m Not Coming and Power Ballad. Night Moves‘ sensory experience begins with audience members being asked to discard their belongings and wait in a dark room behind a curtain of fairy-lights. Signs indicate there will be no opportunity to sit during the show, but this doesn’t stop audience members leaning against the wall or sitting on the floor after the curtain drops. However, it soon becomes apparent that the space is not one where we will be allowed to get comfortable.
Croft eventually emerges beside a pile a chairs, dragging a small stage light, and leads us into a semi-circle as dictated by her beams of light. We try our best to navigate the unfamiliar yet bare room, spotting occasional props, and our discomfort increases as the room amps with tension.
What happens next is the first of many viscerally transfixing moments where Croft’s use of the Basement’s main space, accompanied by an epic sound-scape of discord, is interspersed with popular songs, including the titular ‘Night Moves’, which cut through our unsettled feelings to lead the way towards euphoria, beauty and hope.
Throughout the hour-long performance, Croft holds the space, moving herself – as well as items and the audience – with unflinching purpose. She radiates a palpable energy, and her commitment to outbursts of dance is both mesmerising and beautiful – down to the last erratic ‘dub-step’ krump. The only sound Croft makes for the entire show is an unexpected dog’s bark, but her character – a pioneering astronaut in search of utopia – manges to be direct, engaging and humorous despite the lack of dialogue.
Stripped of her astronaut suit, Croft writhes into the iconic blue gingham dress and brown wig of Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz. Her feminine, insipid smile indicates how ready she is to please the audience, contrasting with the determined masculine energy as she readjusts the stage space.
Towards the end of the performance, operator Jessie McCall’s appearance as a fellow Dorothy explorer feels more functional than a story point, introduced to help Croft manipulate her area by hanging chairs from the ceiling, and moving patriarchal step ladders, until the final moment where the two work together to create a sensory cosmic light display. No longer in silos, working on their own aims, their connection ripples throughout the audience, with many visibly moved by the display. Croft and McCall’s emotional impact on their audience is palpable, and highlights their manifesto for a feminist future achieved through collaboration and perseverance.
Without the explicit feminist frame-work explained within the pre-show marketing material, the addition of Dorothy costumes may have been lost in translation, and the length of time taken to readjust chairs wears thin – but, then, that is the entire point. The audience are constantly lulled from a state of relaxation into one in which we watch Croft battle against the patriarchal status quo. As with each wave of the feminist movement, another challenge soon follows each triumph. More space needs to be manipulated, pushed against and distorted; Croft’s resulting representation is both visceral and captivating.
Despite the discourse around the show, Working on My Night Moves is never preachy or dictatorial. Aside from distorted feminist quotes within a soundscape, its message lies firmly in subtext and audience interpretation. The production remains open as more than an analysis of individual discomfort and isolation. As the flyer denotes, it gives room to ‘fall in love with the ever shifting cracks between any two ideological positions,’ – to fall in love with Croft and Madhan’s act of creation, free from the confines of the male gaze.
Working on my Night Moves plays at Basement Theatre until 23 March as part of Basement Visions 2019.