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Deadringer (2014)

Performed at the Contemporary Dance Experience, JOMBA!, Durban, South Africa,  5-6 August 2014; at the Baxter Festival, Cape Town, South Africa, 7 October 2014; and in the Box Theatre, Rhodes University Drama Department, Grahamstown, South Africa, 7-8 November 2014

A First Physical Company solo commission, in collaboration with the dancer Levern Botha. Deadringer made public a private moment in the life of a ring girl, the girl with the placard walking the boxing ring between each bout and announcing the next. It formed part of the larger work In the Ring.

Taller than Liberty (2014)

Performed at the Contemporary Dance Experience, JOMBA! in Durban, South Africa, 5&6 August 2014

A First Physical Company commission, this work threaded together visual representations of power supported by a variety of movement languages, styles and meanings. Using hyper real iconic images, film, a relentless Pantsoula dance and devised spoken text, Taller than Liberty questioned perceptions of identity and freedom.

Agon: In the Ring (2014)

Box Theatre, Rhodes Drama Department, Grahamstown, South Africa, 8-9 May

Agon: In the Ring, funded by SAHUDA and Lineages of Freedom, was part of a larger project entitled Conflict and Catharsis in Boxing and Performance. It emerged from Athina’s current research on Sports and Performance. The performance comprised of four parts: the boxing training session - B, the preparation of the woman holding the placard in the ring, the ring girl - Dead Ringer, the final bout and the aftermath. It was an interdisciplinary work of Sport Theatre, in which professional boxers and dancers performed together, to create a new hybrid form of theatre.  

A paper presentation related to the work and titled Defending Boxing - Performing the Agon by Rhodes Drama University lecturer Dr Anton Krueger, took place in the Performance Studies international Conference 20, at Shanghai Theatre Academy (4-8July 2014). 

Extract from Agon: In the Ring, filmed by Mark Wilby.

Interdisciplinary Encounters (2011-2013)

From 2011 to 2013, Athina conceived and curated 11 Interdisciplinary Events performed at Rhodes Theatre on behalf of the Drama Department.

The focus of the events was on how we embody various practices and on how the body communicates meaning in forms beyond the traditional theatrical; namely, visual media, music, rituals, martial arts, sports, ‘sub-cultural’ practices, games and action-driven events. Taking the form of lecture demonstrations, discussions, and displays of working processes, the presentations were staged with little if no rehearsal. They took place in the theatrical formal space of the ‘black box’, followed by a discussion with the public. Invited academic disciplines were dislocated from their natural arenas and relocated in the theatre; they came together to focus on a common task and were driven by a topic and a question. The notion of disciplinary encounters was an experiment on the performativity of knowledge; it was based on collaboration and dialogue.

2011: Playing Dirty

          Suspension Lecture 

2012: Beyond Fighting 

          Man At Play


          Objects of Desire

          Know your Place  


          Write the Moment

2013: Materials Matter

          Boxing Is

"During the screening of Mark Wilby’s film, sports psychologist and runner Greg Wilmot was running on the treadmill, the sound of his breathing and of the machine keeping in rhythm and in key with the singing in the background. The fusion of music and sport was possibly the most innovative part of the performance as the two seemingly unrelated disciplines complemented each other. Under the creative and unorthodox instruction of Athina Vahla the Drama department has created collaborations with departments and societies across the board. The show was aurally, physically and visually pleasing, and proved the compatibility and overlapping nature of the arts."
Vimbai Midzi on Synesthesia, Oppidian Press, 8 November 2012

Alchemy - He falls a third time (2012)

London Cultural Olympics, 5 September 2012, Purcel Room, South Bank

Alchemy was choreographed by Athina and co-directed with visual fine artist Rachel Gadsen, one of the London commissions for the 2012 Cultural Olympics.

The overall project was fuelled by the politics and myths surrounding chronic health issues, in particular HIV/AIDS, and the work offered perspectives on what it means to experience disabling conditions and to fight openly for life in the face of social taboos.The performance worked from the collaboration between Gadsen and the South African Bambanani artist-activist group.

For this commission Athina took the Stations of The Cross and selected religious iconography from the Old Testament, and reinterpreted them in an imagined boxing ring where the infected athlete fights for life. Being interested in the performativity of different disciplines, Athina invited performer Freddie Opoku- Addaie, medic Sarah Chin and painter Rachel Gadsen to collaborate on stage. Athina’s working concept, “He Falls a Third Time”, aimed to express the atmosphere of conflict and catharsis.

"Vahla shows us her character's eventual acceptance of his condition and – eloquently embodied by Opoku-Addaie – the ensuing interplay between exhaustion and the will to survive. Beside him, meanwhile, Gadsden is creating an artwork with frantic speed, fighting her own real-life fight against the dying of the light. In the act of painting, she tells us, she is 'living in the second'.

A profoundly affecting reminder of our shared humanity, the work is one of 29 commissioned by the Southbank for its Unlimited festival, celebrating disability, art and culture."
Luke Jennings, The Observer, 9 September 2012

POLIS: An Arena for the Examination of a South African Town (2012)

Performed at: ThinkFest, National Arts Festival, South Africa, 2-6 July 2012

Under the curatorship and direction of Athina Vahla, with Ford Evanson (Dramaturgy), Mark Wilby (Video) and Anton Krueger (Discourse), The Polis Series was an interdisciplinary collaboration between the Rhodes University Departments of Drama, Anthropology, Fine Art, Politics, Philosophy, History, Economics and Music; the series explored questions about the performativity of knowledge. Using it as its rubric the bicentenary of Grahamstown – a historically significant “frontier” town of South Africa- Polis incorporated video works, art installation, live performance, sporting events, historical re-enactment, opera, panel discussions, interviews and debate to explore the anniversary from five points of view: The Arena, The Cell, The Spring, The Border, and The Market.

Rhodes University Drama Department has produced a DVD on POLIS comprising brief extracts from the 4 events.

POLIS: The Arena

... mystifyingly, offensively, bizarre.
Theresa Edlemann on POLIS Arena, Cue, 4 Jul 2012

POLIS provided a favourable environment for social dialogues; the National Arts Festival has provided an expansive experience for the mind.
Kazeka Mashlogu Kuze on POLIS Border, The Herald, 10 July 2012

Wreckage (2011)

Performed: Main Program, National Arts Festival, Grahamstown, Eastern Cape, South Africa

Athina choreographed Wreckage in collaboration with director Brink Scholtz and the Rhodes University Drama Department. The focus of the production was the Eastern Cape coastal history and the people affected by the early trading vessels wrecked along its treacherous shoreline. This was the first collaboration between the two highly acclaimed theatre companies of the Easten Cape: Rhodes University’s First Physical Theatre Company and Ubom! Eastern Cape Drama Company.

"Two giants of the Eastern Cape theatre – Rhodes University’s First Physical Theatre Company and Ubom Eastern Cape Drama Company – collide spectacularly in the locally created and inspired production." Zinzi Mani & Sarita Pillay, Cue Online, July 2011

"This physical theatre piece connects one subliminally to the place of shattered physicality, Psychic breakage, loss and death... a tarot deck of the major arcane, it left me sobbing. At the end, the audience rose en Masse in an ovation of recognition of the sublime." Jane Stone, Artsblog, 4 July 2011

"Wreckage is one of the finest, most revolutionary pieces of collaborative art to ever be presented at this South African National Arts Festival." Mike Graan, Artsblog, 3 July 2011

TOPOS (2011)

National Arts Festival 2011, Arts Lounge, 30 June - 9 July

TOPOS  was created and curated by Athina for Arts Lounge as part of an innovative collaboration between the Drama and the Fine Art Departments Rhodes University. Invited by associate Fine Art professor Ruth Simbao, Athina teamed up with colleague Ford Evanson and created 10 vigniettes, one for each day of the National Arts Festival. They were performed in the attic of a historical house as a site-specific work. Comprised of intimate performance tableaux inspired by the Grahamstown residents’ lives, they functioned as an exercise on collaboration. Both a social and art project, it brought together the different local communities of Grahamstown.

Drama and Fine Art Departments at Rhodes University have produced a DVD of the 10 events and an interview discussion of TOPOS. More images of the production can be viewed here.

Strand (2011)

Infecting the City Festival, Cape Town, South Africa

A site-specific commission for Infecting the City Festival that took place at the new train station, Forecourt Square, in the City Hub, Cape Town. Drawing its inspiration from the festival theme this year "Treasure", Strand focused on the cultural and architectural heritage of the square and its historical connection to the sea as a port. The performance was repeated over seven days. Part of the curator's briefing for Strand , was to thread together into one performance all the independent artistic projects taking place in the Forecourt Square during the festival week.

An extract from Strand. See another extract here.

"What occurred next in the performance I will not disclose, but hordes of passersby and even security were sucked into the action that echoed through the white marbled halls of Cape Town’s train station. Not in years have I seen such fervency in a crowd, particularly a crowd that had not intentionally gone to witness a performance. The effect was both electrifying yet unnerving. Unrehearsed, the crowd was mimicking the very element of human nature that the performance was criticising: cruel curiosity."
Mustapha Hendricks

Infecting the City Website

Knots (2010)

Summer Dance Festival, Limasol, Cyprus, July 2010

A site-specific commission by Nea Kinisi for the Limasol Summer Dance Festival, Knots was based on the historical and social significance of the sea for the inhabitants of the island. It took place on the seafront of the city and was performed both in sea and on land.  

Meet Market (2010)

Infecting the City Festival, Church Square, Cape Town, South Africa, 13 to 20 February 2010

Athina was selected to take part in an eight week creative residency in Cape Town to collaborate with performance makers from South Africa, Zimbabwe, Australia and the Netherlands to make a brand new site-specific work for Infecting the City festival.

A week-long festival of outdoor work in the centre of Cape Town, Infecting the City 2010 took the theme of Human Rites. The preformance was the outcome of a nine-week period of research and development.

On the Square that was once home to the ritual of slavery, a new rite was exercised. An infected wound was lanced, disinfected and then sealed to allow healing.

"The procedure concerns dis-ease. The active disinfecting agent is manifested as a radical swing between the opposing dynamics of the violent and the funny, the extraordinary and the mundane movement. The putrefaction of centuries of denial and shame requires removal. It is painful and yet, strangely, it provokes laughter: both are necessary for complete healing".
Extract from the project presentation to the festival commitee

Summoning the conflicting memories and the fragmented histories of the people of Cape Town to Church Square, the ritual performance wove one story from many truths.

Infecting the City: Meet Market profile

Infecting the City Video Extract

Fight Club (2009)

A Homelands Dance Festival commission, Chisenhale Dance Space,  8 November 2009

For Homelands Dance Festival, Athina collaborated with dancer Leon Baugh, dance scientist Emma Redding, film-maker Monica Alcazar and photographer Helen Burrows alongside a boxer and his trainer from Repton Boys Boxing Club in Bethnal Green to investigate boxing training, structures and rituals.

The creative team worked together over two weeks in a short, risk-taking process that looked at transforming elements of boxing training into performative action and touched upon the state of mind in both training and contest. After five training and rehearsal sessions,  they showed and discussed their work Fight Club at Chisenhale Dance Space. This was the second phase of research and development towards the Arenas project.

The photographs by Helen Burrows are part of her project No Guts No Glory at Repton Boys Boxing Club.

Listening Post (2008)

Athina was Dancer in Residence at the Science Museum, London from May to October 2008. The focus of the residency was a performed response to The Listening Post, a ‘dynamic portrait’ of online communication by artists Mark Hansen and Ben Rubin that displayed uncensored fragments of text sampled in real-time from internet chat-rooms and bulletin boards. Stray thoughts resonated through the space in sound and voice as texts surge, flickered, appeared and disappeared across a suspended grid of over 200 electronic screens.

Athina’s response was a series of movement vignettes repeated in a cyclical pattern. Through the live presence of the dancers, she tried to locate a sense of humanity in the symphony of disembodied voices and texts and to reflect the contrasts between communication and isolation, utterance and silence, the passing and the permanent, sender and receiver, and the fleeting moment of a thought upon a screen.

The piece was commissioned by the Arts Service, Kensington & Chelsea and Science Museum Arts Projects.

Objects of Friction and Fact (2008)

Objects of Friction and Fact, drew its inspiration from Kurt Vonnegut’s book A Man Without A Country. Using the mythological element of the triad and constructing a fictional, hermetic world, it attempted to voice an objection to the present state of “civilisation”.

Objects of Friction and Fact was commissioned for MIKS Dance Theatre and performed at Laban and in Sweden as well as in Nottingham as part of Nottdance Dialogue 2008.

Spaces Between (2007)

A site-specific work for the foyers and public spaces to celebrate the re-opening of the Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre. Athina worked with dramaturg Pete Brooks to create a large-scale work that took as its starting point the Festival of Britain in 1951 and traced post war British society to the present day.

The six floors of the Royal Festival Hall became the decks of a ghost ship journeying along the Thames bringing the past to the present and anticipating a future that is about to unfold. Athina collaborated with Candoco Dance Company, Central St Martin’s School of Art and Design, Newham Sixth Form College and Guildhall School of Music to create a promenade performance incorporating seven simultaneous journeys with a cast of 150 performers and an audience of 1000 for each performance.

there's a lot of spinning, dancing, kicking... and, in the middle, our writhing young man I realise is not acting, but has cerebral palsy and he's having the time of his life. They all are. These are the kids from London whose families hail from all around the world... Some of them are disabled, some of them are uber-abled. And they're bringing the South Bank to where it should be... This is London. And I was incredibly proud. It was brilliant.
Lara Pawson

Commissioned by the Southbank Centre, London

In Praise of Folly (2006)

A rich and evocative piece of dance theatre inspired by the intrigues of Renaissance art. In Praise of Folly was pervaded by a powerful sense of beauty coupled with a constant potential for destruction. The work drew its theme from Erasmus’s In Praise of Folly, a satire based on the religious and political state of Renaissance Italy.

In Praise of Folly was developed from Memento Mori a site-specific project created in 2005 for Candoco Dance Company and Greenwich Dance Agency and influenced by research in Italy on Western religious iconography. Athina’s journey was supported by Candoco and guided by curators from the National Gallery and the Courtauld Institute.

Commissioned by the Candoco Dance Company, presented at the Queen Elizabeth Hall and toured nationally and internationally.

a deep and disturbing piece of dance theatre with atmospheric sound effects by Wajid Yaseen… the dance is lyrical and fluid in movement with some stunning visual images
The Stage

A wild ride
The Guardian

a series of solos and duets in which man's folly and ultimate suffering are portrayed to beautiful and often heartbreaking effect. Most memorably the spotlight singles out a dancer, blindfolded, struggling and falling, in a metal tunnel – one of the most poetic representations of human suffering I have ever seen on stage

Candoco Production Site

By Your Leave (2005)

An interpretation of the Spanish bullfight and its rituals made for Transitions Dance Company. The concept of the bullring was used as a metaphor for an arena of human relationships conjuring feelings of suffocation and rendering desire futile. The bullfighter and the bull became man and his shadow.

I was stunned by the vigour and rough violence of Vahla's take on the Spanish bull-ring. Tall figures sharpening knives made a memorable image to open a series of sinister interactions which 'render human desire futile'. The music by Vivaldi, Cave and one of Schubert's most moving songs contributed to a satisfying whole.
Musical Pointers

Commissioned by Transitions Dance Company

Wrestling an Angel (2004)

A two-part, site-specific work for the Herb Garret and Old Operating Theatre at St Thomas’s Hospital and a vast disused abattoir in Clerkenwell that took the audience on a physical and emotional journey through the complex landscape of the human body and mind in settings of surgery and slaughter.

The Old Operating Theatre presents the spectator with the scientific notion of order where the body is dissected to find the mind. In the labyrinthine compartments of the vast abattoir, order breaks down and the journey is haunted by fragmented memory.

You climb a claustrophobic church tower staircase, pass through a hallway stacked high with the memorabilia of pre-anaesthetic surgery, and wait outside a turret door with the quiet anxiety of a visitor in a hospital waiting room.
The Guardian

The Windows Were Walled (2003)

A promenade performance that animated the hidden spaces of the magnificent 1930's Greenwich Borough Hall. The piece drew inspiration from Lewis Carroll’s Alice Through the Looking Glass and used the element of glass as a lens through which to view a world that oscillated between reality and illusion

Commissioned by the Greenwich Dance Agency for London Open House.

House of Kurtz (2002)

Made for the Master Shipwright’s Palace, Deptford and based on Joseph Conrad’s novella Heart of Darkness.

House of Kurtz was a site specific project incorporating movement, sound, sculpture and film. The piece provided a unique opportunity to experience this building in a state of historical transition, animating it before extensive renovation began a new phase of its life.

Project Website

F-Stop (2001)

A promenade performance based on Samuel Beckett’s short plays Breath, Not I, Rockaby and A Piece of Monologue and performed at Greenwich Dance Agency, Battersea Arts Centre and Athens Concert Hall.

“Vahla’s version departs from the literal content of the source but, as in Beckett, she wants to use the performer as a vessel pouring out strange contents… Sonia Rafferty is a precise mirror of an interior horror, a human machine that obeys an exterior motor while keeping a frightful and rebellious eye on the unfriendly takeover. Her struggle, accompanied by violent mechanical sound, is hypnotic. The long, concentrated process of interiorising rather than mimicking the colonisation of Rafferty’s body is painfully visible.”
Dance Europe