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Nimi CollectiveSTILL falling from zero

Monica Tolia A snake in the house means the family will never want.

AURA 7 ≈ 8

Tensions between habitual and free flowing cultural experiences enliven the senses in Monica Tolia’s A snake in the house means the family will never want. In this work, a track- suited figure’s movements both embrace and are choked by the cultural mechanisms of work and ritual. A transformation takes place when a robot-like structure in the corner metamorphosises into a human figure — her/ their movement liberated by the shedding of their mask and parts of their dress. Through beautifully composed soundscapes that feature Tolia’s mother speaking and singing in her native Toisanese, A Snake in the house asks what truths are revealed when our cultural and spiritual impulses guide us toward both old and new ways of being. Although neatly choreographed and beautifully performed, the essence of the robot’s transformative dance might have liberated its performer in more radical ways.

The possibilities of what a performance can be and do are exploded in Nimi Collective’s STILL Falling From Zero. The show begins with two performers uttering incomprehensible but utterly mesmerising rhythms and speech fragments into their microphones. ‘Follow, failing, falling’ I almost hear them say. Two others join in, their body parts moving, tremoring, discharging: enlivened in response to these contagious cat calls of human sound. Although undoubtedly a standout choreography of gestures, unspeakable emotions, and aural cues that said far more than can be said with only movement or words, there were one or two repetitive sequences in this score that may have been edited.

In AURA’s 7 ≈ 8 an androgynous figure lies in one of two black circular pools of oil, its meditative, contemplative presence both alluring and secular. Immersed in a brilliantly lit sculptural world, this body’s slow rhythm is intuitively guided toward a feminine garment that falls from the ceiling. A hypnotic soundscape of electronic glitches, looped waves and chimes give an animistic charge to the sculptural, beautifully timed scenography of this work. Although AURA’s mesmerising presence captivated the space and my attention throughout, I was craving a slightly more visceral encounter with this powerful transformative act.

Sarah-Mace Dennis

An acrid scent fills the theatre and a kneeling figure, cocooned inside a puffa jacket, emits small clouds of smoke from where their head should be. From the moment we enter Monica Tolia’s A snake in the house means the family will never want, we are invited into a space of mystery and ritual.To a voiceover of her mother, speaking in Toisanese dialect, Tolia presses and twists her hands with forceful expulsion. Those words and gestures may hold some clues, yet there is a gap in clarity and cohesion that resists more than strengthens the mystery of this work. When the cocooned figure emerges, long black fingernails first, and takes a spiralling journey around the stage, her body twisting upon itself like a newly-birthed creature, she could be as much a counterpart to Toila as a being this ritual has brought to life.

Taking a more playful approach, Nimi Collective’s STILL falling from zero blends layers of sound and movement in a piece that balances between evolving soundscape and choreographed performance.Unintelligible words catch in the throats of two performers, the sounds swallowed and regurgitated until they gradually morph into words, then sentences. Their vocals build a rhythmic soundscape for two dancers, the staccato movements of their bodies seeming to absorb and echo their vocal effort. Within the slow build of this work, a fragmented but nuanced conversation between sound and movement emerges that is at once a product of and response to the other. It is at times a chaotic cacophony, but joyfully so.

In its stripped back simplicity, 7 ≈ 8 feels an invitation to observe, or enter alongside artist AURA, a meditative state of mind and body. Whether that is mesmeric or frustrating is a personal experience. Across 25 minutes AURA takes a gradual journey from lying in one inky black pool, breath undulating her body, to standing in another, the light casting rippling, watery shadows as she slowly rotates in a flowing gown. In that atmospheric transition, images of renewal, rebirth and transformation emerge. There are moments of absorbing visual beauty, however the invitation to fully enter this experience might be at its most effective unseated, with the freedom to choose how to view and engage with the gentle pace of this subtle work.

Rachel Elderkin