Tag Archives: GOlive Dance and Performance Festival

Peta Lily: The transformative power of Imperfection

Interview by Winchester Guide editor Donald Hutera
Peta LilyPeta Lily is one of my favourite performers, but also one whom I’ve known personally as both colleague and friend for thirty years. I’ve happily presented several of her self-written solo shows, including Invocation and her Macbeth-inspired The Porter’s Daughter, as part of the various GOlive Dance & Performance Festival programmes I’ve been curating since 2013. Her work is funny, serious and wise, and it has a smart physical edge. 
Peta is not just a fine writer and actor but also an experienced teacher, mentor and director. Her good-natured directness and honesty as a performer and a person have always appealed to me. Much to Peta’s credit, she’d probably be the first to admit that she’s full of Imperfection.
Yup, I’ve used that last word in the singular, and with good reason. It happens to be the title of a book of Peta’s poetry which, in turn, is also the major source material for her solo show of the same name. 
ImperfectionAudiences in the Winchester area can drink in Peta Lily’s Imperfection in all its intimate glory at the Discovery Centre, where it’s being presented under the auspices of the Theatre Royal Winchester on February 11 at 7.45pm. 
I threw a few questions in Peta’s direction, via email, about herself and the show. With any luck her answers will whet your appetite enough to go see the woman in action.  
An image-inspired writer…
Donald: Did writing the poems come first and then the idea to perform them, or…?
Peta: A couple of things happened but I’m not sure in which order. 
I’ve been capturing images of ‘lost corners’ using my iPhone – images of damaged or drear (or bright) things that have a strange, compelling vibrancy and an almost totemic quality, or so I felt. And the people I’ve shared them with seemed to find them interesting too.
I’m a big believer in the accidental. If I look back on my career path, there were pivotal points that were completely random but had huge repercussions and yielded large gains. So ‘following the accidents’ intuitively became the backbone of my photography practice. A friend suggested I write about it, and from that came the titular poem Imperfection, which begins: ‘the broken, the chipped, the darkly lit…’
Also I love my local library. I go there sometimes in search of particular things and sometimes just walk to the shelves and see what jumps out at me. I picked up a copy of CharlesBukowski’s New Poems Book 4 that way. I just loved his honest, muscular voice and relentless recording of whatever was to hand. Waiting, uncertainty, resentment…he even makes depression looks like a thing of spiritual beauty. Plus he was writing poems about the process of writing poems himself, and the process of calibrating one’s own success. (Actually that’s not true, because he always has his own unquenchable value of his work and his practice.) 
I also went to my library to read about Stevie Smith. After a youth where I wanted to taste a wider life as lived by the Bloomsbury Group, or Anais Nin, I now live a quiet life. Happily so. At moments lonely, but the Saturday and Sunday supplements tell me that loneliness is endemic now so at least I’m not alone…in feeling alone. 
I’d been writing a poem a week on various fractured corners of life for a while, and collected a bunch together to offer my director/dramaturg Di Sherlock (who directed Linda Marlowe in Carol Ann Duffy’s The World’s Wife). Di edited them, putting put in poems I wouldn’t have included and dropping others. ‘This is the art, death and alcohol show,’ she said. I’m no Bukowski, but I enjoy a glass of wine and at a certain point the Dionysus poem (‘Each night I meet with Dionysus/but I don’t meet him as I should…’) turned up – a nice follow-on from previous show Chastity Belt where I explored Diana/Artemis. There was a scratch showing at the Lost Theatre in Vauxhall, London of what was to become Imperfection, and an exhibition of the photographic images I’d been producing. People said they thought the images should be included in the show, and I made a short film of the images which now happens inside the show.
Opening up to risk… 
Donald: How is it for you to take an audience on this trip into your sensibility – what are the challenges and rewards?
Peta: I trust Di, having worked with her a number of times over the years. Also, since making my first autobiographic show Topless in 1999 I realised that risk can pay off. That if I open up and speak about awkward or strange things I’ve noticed, done or felt (things I may not say socially), then other people step forward after the show and tell me, or tell otheraudience members about things that have happened to them. 
It’s important when working with personal material to make sure you’ve ramped it to a universal perspective by going to the essence of the thing. By going to the most honest place, you can get the ludicrousness of something. By putting your hand up to your own faults there can be a strange pathos released (or so they tell me). One of the poems in this show is still quite a risk for me to perform – I didn’t really want it to go in. I was uneasy how people would ‘read’ it. But others have endorsed it. It seems they resonate with the sentiments, the predicaments. We are all imperfect. People get it.
Biographical obsessions…
Donald: Tell me about you…
Peta: Actress turned physical theatre performer. Occasional playwright. Mime-trained (in good company with the late Mr. David Bowie). Physical theatre and clown teacher, director, creative mentor and, um, poet? Photographer? A friend once used the word polymath – very nice of them. Someone quite close to me once called me a dilettante. Hey, I’m a suburban Aussie-born girl actually living in London – and making stuff!! Creativity! There’s a YouTube interview where the late Mr. Alan Rickman says ‘Theatre is (sort of) my religion’. Yeah. And then there’s magic, the way that Grayson Perry talks about it. You have to have your own magic, talismans, obsessions.
Not perfect…
Donald: Have you been writing all your life, essentially, and why do you do it? Is there a need involved, or…?
Peta: As a small girl I wanted to and tried to and did write. But felt a failure. There was no model for me apart from fairy stories – it wasn’t a literary household. Later a high school teacher included creative writing in the syllabus. And he made us read, too. When I first discovered Nin’s autobiographical writing I was really impacted by her showing what was under the skin – the actual stuff, not the presented self of formal memoirs by heroic men and women. Nin had secrets, flaws, obsessions, shortfalls. Not perfect.
Coda: a (mysterious) compulsion…
Donald: What about the images you capture – how’d you characterise that work in a nutshell?
Peta: I have a website for my photography, thank you for asking (www.petalilyphotography.com). People can follow me on Facebook too  ( as Peta Lily) where I post images that strike me as a record of the day, or as a kind of communication or gift to others (if that doesn’t sound too grandiose). On Instagram I am petalily and my by-line is ‘to the mysterious’. Ultimately everything is mysterious, even the banal – don’t you think? I’ve been trying to write about what my compulsion to photograph is about recently, and found myself writing about how in my solitary childhood, often in boring or unsatisfactory surroundings, I would go off into a kind of blank trance trying to find some meaning in what my surroundings were presenting me with… There may be no meaning, but if there was one wouldn’t it be wonderful if it was magical somehow? What is a compulsion anyway – when something grabs you, gets your attention, is ‘talking’ to you? It’s rude not to pay attention, no? 
I had a French boyfriend when I was seventeen and he got me to read Jean Genet. You couldn’t get much less suburban Australian than that, could you? Genet’s philosophy was to take things that were vilified (including himself) and elevate them. Something there, perhaps, in my wanting to honour the humble and transform the mundane.

GOlive at Winchester University

Tipped by Dance Europe as one of 2014’s highlights on the Dance scene, GOlive made its way to Winchester for one night at Winchester University in what will be the first of many visits…

Imaginations Flowing: A Review of GOlive at Winchester University – September 16, 2014


Since the birth of the GOlive Dance and Performance Festival in September 2013 at the Giant Olive Theatre, Kentish Town, its topsy-turvy programme has provided a platform for both new and returning artists back-to-back with an average of five different ‘acts’ per night. This autumn the multi-disciplinary festival presented mixed bills on nine nights over a two-week period in London, plus an additional evening hosted by The University of Winchester on September 16.

The low-key, rough-and-ready nature of GOlive gives it an edge, with artists being showcased in a wonderfully intimate but exposing way. Each evening is entirely unique, presenting a lucky dip of works-in-progress, excerpts of longer shows or short and snappy finished pieces. But it’s the curation of twenty-minute or so works of all sorts that gives this festival its power. With such variety and juxtaposition in GOlive’s palm, its audiences are bombarded with enquiring and thinking pieces that allow for new ‘ways of seeing’ (to quote John Berger) via their order on the programme.

Mamoru Iriguchi
Mamoru Iriguchi

Mamoru Iriguchi introduced his semi-biographical work-in-progress [working title: Marlene Backwards] as a play on the three standard dimensions but with the addition of a fourth – time. Using spoken text and a series of video projections broken by time, space or Iriguchi’s own face as a centrepiece, he distorted the linear narrative of German actress/singer Marlene Dietrich’s life. In this manner Iriguchi exposed the facades created by technology – facades that are easily perceived as absolute through a camera lens. It was when his own technology failed him – and as he moved in and out of character – that Iriguchi’s clunky, awkwardly stop-start performance gained what I believe to be its ‘real’ extra dimension: the falling in and out of perceived reality.  As a recording of the same performance (given previously in Germany) was played in reverse, the piece’s formal and visual elements became the focus alongside a screaming sense of dislocation in time, place, and language. Iriguchi was effectively reminding us how fallible, changeable and interlinked our constructed realities and technologies are.

Debbie Lee Anthony
Debbie Lee Anthony

Debbie Lee-Anthony’s reworked autobiographical solo A nice little project (shown in Winchester Chapel at Every Word Hurts on June 26, 2014) returned for several nights at GOlive in London, plus this one-off in Winchester. After handing out biscuits, Lee-Anthony took the audience through a nostalgic sharing of all things nice whilst also exploring the psychological implications of ‘nice’ people. Honest recollection of negative responses to her actions and personality revealed undertones of suffocation and frustration. In other words, Lee-Anthony relived the emotions associated with these experiences whilst describing them through words and dance.  The audience was drawn into the dialogue by sharing mutual scenarios of ‘niceness,’ something that would strengthen the unsettling nature of the piece if it were to reoccur as Lee-Anthony’s themes became darker and yet more academic – thus creating possible moments of self-reflection for us.

Hayley Barker
Hayley Barker

Hayley Barker (an associate artist at The Point, Eastleigh) brought her second piece Venus to GOlive, a work-in-progress that casually invited the audience to observe closely this doll-like redhead as she grinned and grimaced, chewed, preened and agitated. Several times Barker snacked from a bag of nuts whilst accumulating a jolting movement vocabulary into a distorted, grotesque version of herself. Clear motions were repeated, building up a dynamic tension and a sense of expectation that remained unfulfilled due to this short work’s sudden finish. As Hutera later commented to Barker, ‘I wondered if we’d see you vomit those nuts over the stage.’ Plainly a massive explosion of some kind was anticipated, or possibly a handful of nuts greedily gobbled, dribbled and spat out; there was a mess to be made, or a purging of movement both ugly and cathartic and blurring the line between satisfaction and self-loathing. But the sudden stop to Barker’s piece was powerful in itself, and perhaps said more about the urges and longings that were left in the spectator’s imaginations. Was it not brave of Barker to end her work there and refuse to give the audience its climax? I think so.

Nuno Silva
Nuno Silva

Nuno Silva and Sabio Janiak are two other GOlive alumni imported from London to Winchester. In this piece Silva serenaded the audience, some of whom were invited to sit in the round onstage in close proximity to the performers and their instruments. The magnetising Silva quietly introduced each fado, illuminating the Portuguese national song just enough to set imaginations flowing as we reclined into a candlelit world of music at once soulful and comforting as a lullaby. Silva’s constantly circling choreography and intensity as a singer and dancer was trance-inducing.  Janiak’s complete concentration creating live music with voice and multi-instrumentals was equally mesmerising. Their collaboration created a whirlwind of emotion, transporting this spectator into another realm.

Sarah Kent
Sarah Kent

Sarah Kent, a familiar face in GOlive, brought the house down as she always does. Engaging in a performance ‘conversation’ with her is unpredictable and chancy. Kent’s stream-of-consciousnessis structured and knowing but risks being never-ending. Batty as ever, funny, naughty and completely unabashed, her improvised form of ‘action theatre’ drew in this instance on features of the theatrical and architectural space as she evoked memories and stories from her past. From high-pitched wails to car engines to on-the-spot singing, her use of voice in Winchester was powerful and solidly dependable.

To sum up, GOlive never fails to intrigue and catch you unawares. There’s an oddness of character about this festival which makes each outing – whether in Kentish Town or Winchester – so interesting. Wherever you see GOlive, and on whatever night, you’re guaranteed to laugh, question your own assumptions and be surprised. Hosted by the University, the ‘one-night stand’ in Winchester occurred at what is only the beginning of the festival’s second year of existence. What a treat it was to view both London and local artists together. Curator Donald Hutera’s ‘troupe’ was honest and humble during a post-show talk where the works we’d just seen were dissected and unpicked. Each artist was passionate and eloquent about his or her intentions and process, valuing the dialogue with the audience. With any luck GOlive’s visit to Winchester will turn out to be the first of many to the city…

By Rebecca JS Nice