I can’t claim any degree of objectivity on this performance as Ayesha Mailey is my dearly loved long-time colleague in Echo Echo… but somehow the pretence of objectivity feels a bit contradictory with the spirit of art, creativity and desire so here goes anyway…
I saw this piece when it was first performed a year or so ago and the transformation is remarkable. There isn’t so much different in the form, text, general movement and mise-en-scene but the power of the piece is so much stronger that it kind of feels like a different work altogether. Looking back it is clear that the previous performance was really very much a work in progress.
I was close to tears several times during the show, but these tears weren’t ones of distress but rather came from a deep feeling that someone is naming and embodying an experience of existential insecurity that we all know but is hard to describe exactly in words.
The structure of the piece has a kind of post-modern fragmented, self referential aspect but, unlike so much work like that, it has a very warm and welcoming heart. It isn’t at all cool or analytic. This is because Ayesha has such a warm and secure performance presence. She has softness and fluidity and an attractive porosity. She is also strong and and has a secure performative presence. As an audience member you feel safe to go with her into her autobiographical insecurities, to visit the recurring theme of “words fail me” and to acknowledge the deep fellow feeling which lies there. The friction or “edge” in the performance comes from Ayesha’s other quality; a sort of dangerous Crazy-Jane madness, just under the surface, that is never too explicit but gives a sense that things might not remain held together.
The projection and light design, by Barry Davis, are well judged in their fineness and simplicity. They refer, like the text, to a time of childhood innocence without being cheap or embarrassingly naive. The strength of this gives ground for the elements in the text and movement which offer the other side of the child (and adult) experience of being rather lost, exposed, uncomfortable.
One other observation that I had about the piece was how Ayesha has the ability to draw attention away from her level of movement skill. Her balance, phrase control and athletic skill are highly developed. However, because these skills are softly inhabited, you never get the feeling, as a watcher, of being stuck on that. Indeed, I am actually sure that most people in the audience didn’t even remark on the absolute perfection of some of the movement. One sequence; a one and a half turn jump landed totally perfectly, without noise, and continuing into a diagonal phrase across the floor was quite incredible, but because the movement makes poetic sense it doesn’t become a trick or spectacle. One watches the sense not the trick; a beautiful quality.
It is wonderful to have work this good being made here at home in Derry by a local artist. It means that we can organise for Ayesha to perform it again, outside the festival time, in the near future, so more people can get the chance to go with her into that experience of a shared insecurity and vulnerability while being held and warmly supported by a remarkable performer and guide.