Immersion is the operative idea at work in Russya Connor’s performance piece Sea Inside.
From the moment we step through the theatre door into a red lit corridor lined with seashells and move inwards to the grey monochrome performance area, we are immersed. We’ve stepped into a vaguely organic space that is peppered with stone-shaped cushions and beanbags instead of traditional seating and in the middle of the room hang two long white aerial ribbons, while silhouettes of leafless trees are projected onto the back wall and a low jungle-inspired ambient tune pulses gently along with sounds of chirping birds.
Until now, I hadn't yet experienced such a complete transformation to one of the Blue Room spaces; the orientation of the stage and audience areas, being seated on cushions on the vinyl dance flooring, and being enveloped in an ambient soundscape all contributed to an other-worldly feeling as we waited for the performance to begin. As the lights came down and Connor appeared in white, giving the impression of a greek goddess/pagan queen/acrobat hybrid, it was clear this would be a very unique performance piece.
What we witnessed is hard to classify or describe and is indeed even difficult to decipher. There was a constant projection of natural images (underwater and above-ground scenes) on the back wall and Connor narrates her performance with text based on the poetry of R.M. Rilke, both pre-recorded and live, sometimes in English, sometimes in German. She climbs up and down the aerial ribbons, swings in and out of the audience, talks to us upside down, sideways and backwards. She is a solid figure and displays a lot of strength and agility; she also manages to come up with dozens of ways to twist and contort around the ribbons, so each turn up into the air is new and different.
The lighting by Tegan Evans is especially good in spots and adds to the immersive feel; gobos and moving lights create underwater refractions on the floor. A bit of fog from the smoke machine allowed for individual shafts of light to create distinct light spaces for Connor to play in. The simple effect of a special spot on the ribbons themselves turned them into mesmerizing objects in their own right. The final element of total immersion of the senses is achieved through the sound design, with music scored by Ali Schmidl, which is electronic ambient with references to nature.
This is a metaphysical, philosophical work and a completely unique performance experience. There is no structure, no fourth wall and the performance remains ambiguous in the memory. Essentially the significance is sensory and seems to be an exploration of the subconscious, where one thought or feeling can trigger another, without clear linear paths between them. So if you’re expecting to see something conventional, this does not fall under that category, instead landing on the experimental end of even The Blue Room spectrum.
If, however, you are up for something quite different with a fringe feel and a very European sensibility, then this will do just the trick.