Susannah Self tells us about her new show solo which she performs under her pseudonym Seawolf.
A woman emerges from a huge pile of discarded rubbish, like Erda from the earth in Wagner’s Ring. She explores her body through movement and abstract vocalisation which evokes the calls of the ancient bird goddesses. This is the beginning of HER BODY: The Anatomy of a Woman, a new physical theatre installation commissioned by the 2021 Tête a Tête Opera for their Festival in London this July.
In HER BODY I want to create an enlivening chill-out zone for the audience designed as an antidote to the psychic exhaustion that we are all experiencing in the current pandemic. It is a fusion of physical theatre, art installation abstract soundscape and notated music. Having more time to reflect on ourselves during lockdown I decided to explore my relationship to my mind, body and spirit through movement, voice, film, found objects and sound technology. I am creating a show that relies on the audience having an experience of an intuitive understanding rather that presenting a delineated verbal narrative.
In this work I use extended vocal treatments over my sound installations which are created with Logic Pro. Treated live sounds such as sea and swallows are incorporated alongside improvised synthesisers and notated music such as HER BODY: The Anatomy of a Woman, a new eight-minute punchy minimalist piece for string orchestra and marimba just published by Composers Edition. These all interface with video installations which I filmed during lockdown along the stunning North Norfolk Coast where I live.
During the creative process of writing HER BODY I asked a question on social Media “How do you feel about your body”. The resulting cascade of responses from men and women are aired in the show alongside her own vulnerability.
For HER BODY I incorporate my composing methodology of quilting which is derived from intense observations on the complexities of quilt making. The formality of a quilt’s template’s structure successfully holds together widely contrasting materials, colours and textures. In a similar way many compositional possibilities can be organically developed, cross-related, juxtaposed and transformed within a discernible structure. This eclectic range of compositional approaches may be interesting to resonate with an audience of people who usually don’t go to opera.
The central concept behind the HER BODY is to explore a woman’s relationship to her body, mind and soul. Traditionally this investigation of a woman’s body has been dominated by male artists who frequently place women’s bodies on a pedestal of perfection. However latterly female artists have re-invented the aesthetic by allowing a women to be authentically themselves such as in Tracy Emin’s My Bed, Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party and Yayoi Kusama’s Aggregation: One Thousand Boats Show. This work in particular inspires my compositional modules, responding to concepts of repetition and infinity. Also composer/vocalists like Meredith Monk in Earth Rant and Billie Eilish in My Future explore their artistic expression through vulnerable and independent self-revelation. For dance I am inspired by the dance practitioner Pina Bausch’s re-invention of the body as a form of autoethnography (here is a link to Susannah’s Wave Form created with dancer/choreographers at The Royal Birmingham Ballet. The music score of this work is also published by Composers Edition).
Also the experience of working with John Cage in Canada has led me to a lifetime passion for thinking outside the box. Ultimately, I aim to achieve a syncretic fusion while still maintaining the authenticity of my composer’s voice.
HER BODY concludes inside a cosmic snow forest which represents our interior landscape. The soundscape pulsates with orchestrally descending bass lines overlaid with ecstatic singing of implied Wagnerian proportions.
HER BODY: The Anatomy of a Woman for Tête à Tête premières at the Cockpit Theatre, London on Wednesday 28th July at 19.30 and online on Friday 30th July at 20.00 2021.The show is designed for all gender identifications, it lasts 40 minutes and online on 30th July it is followed by a half hour discussion with Bill Bankes Jones artistic director of Tête a Tête, Dr Alison Habens and the international mezzo Loré Lixenborg.