I’m thinking about baggage.
BELLYFLOP and The Famous Lauren Barri Holstein share some baggage. A couple of years ago one of my colleagues shared her opinions of Holstein’s work in this magazine. It became rather a sticky issue, to the point at which the mention that I am part of the BELLYFLOP team to a live artist or programmer can often cause a strange look and an interrogation about the article.
Holstein brings baggage into the space. I’m not thinking about the volume of things in the space, though there is that: the stage is littered with stuff, from fairytale paraphernalia (cauldron, giant story book) to liquids (ketchup, yoghurty ‘vomit’, pee) to people (paparazzi, backing dancers, princesses). More importantly the work is filled with references and histories we might or might not know; Holstein brings with her a couple of cases of performance art history and a trunk-load of contemporary popular culture.
I’m also laden. Not only did I spend the weekend hanging out at a festival (the incredible //BUZZCUT//) with the show’s producer, and I can see a couple of friends on the stage, I’m paralysed thinking about how plenty of people who know both Holstein and me will read this text and what it means for me. Besides that unnecessary self-centredness, inspired, maybe, by the star’s on-stage persona, I also saw Splat!’s preview at Laban in November; my baggage forces a spectatorial action of comparison.
I liked it better before. The kamikaze, overflowing nature of the work, still present in last night’s version, was heightened by the under-rehearsal and the knowledge that technical cues were missed and re-started for real. In the preview I wasn’t sure if the on-stage photographer was there just to grab publicity shots; in the premiere his name was in the programme. Holstein’s barked orders to her collaborators had force, for it was quite possible that they hadn’t had the chance to properly rehearse this transition or that entrance.
Perhaps this is an issue of memory, but midst the chaos the numbers in the preview were surprisingly slick: super-energetic dancing to schmaltzy 1980s and furious contemporary pop music, gloriously ridiculous images and stellar singing. But last night it felt like the rhythm was off, the skilfulness turned lacklustre without the proper backing of shambolic surprises.
There’s plenty I enjoyed in the work. Who can deny the wonder of a bedtime story about vicious genitalia, or Holstein’s grand mid-show entrance, wearing a white one-piece bathing suit, a blinding and giant Bambi-head and roller skates, singing A Whole New World from Disney’s Aladdin? I love that, though not as much as the grand Busby-Berkeley-esque dance routine with a bunch of dancers in various states of (un)dress wearing small “woodland friend” masks while Holstein lies centre-stage singing along to a Leona Lewis number. It’s bloody marvellous.
But I still have a problem. And it’s a critical one, and a subjective one, as they all are. Holstein works with representations of women – the slut, the show-off, the submissive, and lots more – that we all know and (maybe) loathe. She takes them and breaks them up and puts them back together, more flawed and jumbled and ugly than they were before, just as she and her assistants shatter watermelons and tear wigs and attempt to reconstruct them for the finale. But messing up these representations does not undo them. Rather, it does them again, reinforces them, makes another one of them in the world. This ironic-sincere mash-up doesn’t allow me to see another way to be. It’s not an opening but a closing. Splat! wants me to want something else, but all it has to offer is more of the same. Instead of ridding me of baggage, it weighs me down.
Created by: The Famous Lauren Barri Holstein
Associate Artist/Blue Princess: Hrafnhildur Benediktsdóttir
Collaborator/Pink Princess: Krista Vuori
Collaborator/Twin #1: Rebecca Duschl
Collaborator/Twin #2: Else Tunemyr
Collaborator/Mini-me: Lucy McCormick
Producer: Aaron Wright
Paparazzi: Katerina Paramana and Jon Cartwright
Production Manager and Lighting Designer: Marty Langthorne
Backup Dancer Choreographer/Rehearsal Director: Rebecca Duschl
Music Composer/Producer: Adam Horrell
Pre-recorded Male Vocalist: Pierrot Obi Peacock
Pre-recorded Female Vocalist: Jessica Berry
Pre-recorded Pianist: Steve Pringle
Prop Builder: Tim Fluck and Sebastian Harding
Head Rigger: Leo Hedman
Rigging Assistant: Pablo Meneu
Production Assistants: Alethea Raban and Karl Taylor
Woodland friends: Amanda Hohenberg, Amara McPhail, Anna Mason, Benedict Hudson, Chris Lamb, Connie Page, Estéban Fourmi, Genevieve Giron, Jérôme Porsperger, John Ovenden, Karl Taylor, Katalin Bresztyenszky, Laura Firth, Laura Nemeikšytė, Lia Kostinou, Marco Contino, Niv Ben-Yehuda, Phoebe Knight, Rachel Crawford, Samuel Kennedy, Sara Zaltash, Scarlett Lassoff, Xavier de Sousa