Performance
 

 

Regardless of scale or locality, my performances are action. I think of them as gestures evolving, spreading, growing new roots, becoming gardens. They remind me that a change in the world is still possible, as long as we keep dreaming and actively carving paths with others.

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Letter from Oki

(2020)

Commissioned by Integrated Company Kyo for the Tokyo Metropolitan Theatre, Tokyo, Japan.

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The performance was the final stage of a research project on local Japanese folk dances (see research), funded by the Cultural Affairs in Japan (Feb 2020). It developed from Kinya Monya, a performance output created for the Amacho Festival, Amacho, Oki Islands, Japan (Sept 2019).

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Watermob

(2019)

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Commissioned by the Drama Department at Rhodes University, Watermob was both a flash mob and a site-specific public event activating the Makhanda town centre in South Africa. The orchestration and design of this work involved bringing together many different communities to perform in one large-scale, outdoor, flash-mob oriented event. The purpose of the project was social; to raise drought awareness.

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Ekkyklema

(2019)

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Commissioned by Integrated Company Kyo for the Tokyo Metropolitan Theatre, Tokyo, Japan.


The performance was a dance and visual poem based on the notion of the aftermath across cultures. An ekkyklêma (Gr. for a roll - out machine) in the ancient Greek theatre, was a stage platform on wheels that carried the dead bodies on stage representing a tragic event through its aftermath.

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Revolution Diptych

(2017)

October (South Africa) & November (Mexico)

November (2017)

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An image captured from a performance of the piece (above) with a Diego Rivera painting (below), titled Vendedora de Flores (The Flower Seller).

Vendedora de Flores, Diego Rivera

 

Diego Rivera’s murals, the Day of the Dead, Mexican rituals, Aztec rhythms and gestures, the quebradita dance and the Mexican Revolution; a collaboration with PSMDO2 Physical Theatre, celebrating Mexican culture.

 

The original performance venue was cancelled due to the earthquake disaster at the time. However, the work was created and was presented at the University of Mexico in Mexico City.

The intended performance was cancelled due natural disaster (earthquakes and aftershocks) just as I arrived in Mexico City. The theatre building became unsuited for public access. The company moved to Mexico City.

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October (2017)

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This performance took place at the Box Theatre, The Drama Department Rhodes University, in a Theatre Honours Performance.

...October (2017), made by Athina Vahla...Performed exactly one hundred years after the Russian communist uprising, the work references the thrill of revolution (a joyful, hysterical fervour ensues during a rendition of Boney M’s “Rasputin”) only to end in the cold blue chill of murder, terror, and deprivation. In her piece, Vahla explores the impulse towards violence, while also cautioning against its consequences.

Quote, above: A. Krueger, Revolutionary Trends at the South African National Arts Festival, Routledge Companion to Theatre and Politics, 2019.

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De Profundis – Prolongations of Silence

(2017)

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Drill Hall – St Andrew’s Concert Hall, Makhanda, South Africa

A piano recital by Joanna Wicherek, based on Oscar Wilde’s words, set to the music composition of Frederic Rzewski (1994). Wilde, wrote De Profundis from his prison cell in Reading, England (1897).

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This performance adaptation of Rzweski’s De Profundis, focused on developing the already existing scores of music and text into a more integral corporeal expression, in which the pianist’s physical performance was developed. In this sense, the composition was reimagined.

 

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In Preparation

(2010-2012)

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In Preparation was a laboratory-based solo performance testing the performer’s endurance to its limits. In preparation was a research work developed in collaboration with dance scientist Dr Emma Redding, medical doctor Sarah Chin, composer Neil Luck with the avant-garde music collective Squib-box and dramaturg Mary Ann Hushlak.

 

The outputs were presented at the International Association for Dance Medicine and Science Conference at Birmingham Hippodrome (2010) and developed further in Washington DC (2011). In Preparation was also performed at Trinity Laban, and as a site-specific work at the Old Deptford Police Station. It was also presented as a radio podcast hosted at Resonance FM by Squib

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Myths, Then and Now

(Multiple Works, 2014-2018, collated below)

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As part of her artistic residency with First Physical Theatre Company, Athina was commissioned to produce a series of performances. Some were performed at the Box Theatre of Rhodes University, Makhanda, others toured as part of the Contemporary Dance Experience, JOMBA! Festival in Durban, South Africa and The Baxter Festival, Cape Town, South Africa.

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Taller than Liberty

(2015)

This work weaved together visual representations of power supported by a variety of movement languages and styles. Using iconic images, film, Pantsoula dance and spoken text, Taller than Liberty questioned perceptions of identity and freedom.

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Deadringer

(2014)

This piece made public a private moment in the life of a ring girl, walking the boxing ring between each bout and announcing the next. It later formed part of the larger work Boxing - In the Ring.

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Deus Faber

An exploration of the emergence of Liberty as a female icon, inspired by myths of genesis, and extracts from Lincoln’s historical speeches.

 
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Ooo!

Hula hooping relentlessly to the sounds of bosa nova and bell chain ringing, a female solo performer on podium performed social provocations and invited spectators on stage to participate in a hoop fitness class. DNA, was the development of Ooo! into a group hula hoop work four years later (2018) and was also developed further as part

of a public sited event, Watermob (2019).

 
 
 

 

Agon

(2009 – 2018)

Between 2009 and 2018, Athina created a number of productions investigating the Greek concept of agon with boxing based performances across the UK and South Africa. These boxing works developed over seven years and formed part of her hybrid performances she named sport-theatre. Fight Club (2009) and Agon - In the Ring (2014) are the two performance bookends of her boxing projects.

In The Ring

(2014)

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Photo, Mark Wilby


This work was shown at Box Theatre, Rhodes Drama Department, Grahamstown, South Africa, May 2014.

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 research on Sports and Performance. The performance comprised of the boxing training session, the boxing bout and its 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 related to the work and titled Defending Boxing - Performing the Agon co-written by Professor A. Kruger and Athina was presented in the Performance Studies international Conference 20, at Shanghai Theatre Academy (4-8July 2014). 

 


 

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Fight Club

(2009)

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A Homelands Dance Festival commission, Chisenhale

Dance Space, November 2009

For Homelands Dance Festival, Athina collaborated with a dancer, a dance scientist, a boxer and his trainer from Repton Boys Boxing Club in London to investigate boxing training. The team worked together in a short, risk-taking process that looked at transforming elements of boxing training into performative action.

Other distinct works of this period investigating agon and its social and choreopolitical dimensions include, Existential (2014) – a Trinity Laban commission, A Soft Target (2016) - a Verve commission (affiliated to the Northern School of Contemporary Dance) and Ethics (2018) - an Edge commission (affiliated to the London Contemporary Dance School).

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.

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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. These events 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 particular topic and a question. The notion of disciplinary encounters was an experiment on the performativity of knowledge; it was based on collaboration and dialogue.

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Playing Dirty

(2011)

(Women’s soccer, Sports, Fine Arts, Applied Theatre) 

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Suspension Lecture

(2011)

(Neo-primitive practices, Fine Arts) 

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Beyond Fighting

(2012)

(Karate, Aikido) 

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Man at Play

(2012)

(Interactive Games, Digital Technologies, Drama) 

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Objects of Desire

(2012) 
(Collectors, Psychoanalysis, Surveillance) 

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Synaesthesia

(2012)

(Film, Gym, Music, Philosophy)

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Know your Place

(2012)

(Geography)

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Retellings

(2012)
(Narrative Psychology, Applied Theatre) 

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Write the Moment

(2012)

(Dance Improvisation, Journalism) 

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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 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)

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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.

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

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

(2012)

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

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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

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Wreckage 
(2011)

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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.

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

 

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

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TOPOS 
(2011)

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

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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 film maker Mark Wilby and created 10 vignettes, one for each day of the National Arts Festival. They were performed in the attic of a historical house as a site-specific work. TOPOS was a social art project, that 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.

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Strand
(2011)


Infecting the City Festival, Cape Town, South Africa.

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A site-specific commission for Infecting the City Festival that took place in the city hub of Cape Town. Strand focused on the cultural and architectural heritage of the Forecourt Square and its historical connection to the sea as a port and was repeated over seven days. An additional task given to Athina by the festival, was to thread together all the independent artistic projects taking place in the Forecourt Square during the festival week.

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

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Knots 
(2010)

Summer Dance Festival, Limassol, Cyprus, July 2010.

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A site-specific commission by Nea Kinisi for the Limassol 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.  

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Meet Market 
(2010)

Infecting the City Festival, Church Square,

Cape Town, South Africa, February 2010.

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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 create a 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 and Rituals. The performance 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.   

The procedure concerns dis-ease. 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. 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. 

From the Meet Market Project Brief

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The Splinter in the Flesh 
(2010)

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Originally commissioned as a work in progress by British Council, Greece and Isadora Duncan Institute, The Splinter in the Flesh was further developed by the Hellenic Dance Company at the State School of Dance, Athens in Summer 2008 and was premiered at the Athens Music Hall in December 2010. The full-length work was the final stage of a three - year project based on the idea of identity and otherness. The theatre stage was transformed in a gladiatorial caged arena and the theme of "fight or flight" became the metaphor for human consciousness and its consequences.   

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Fight Club 
(2009)

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

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Image Credit, Helen Burrows

 

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.

 

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

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Listening Post 
(2008)

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Athina produced a series of performances as artist in residence at the Science Museum, London in 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 chatrooms and bulletin boards. Stray thoughts resonated through the space in sound and voice as texts surged, 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.

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Objects of Friction and Fact 
(2008)

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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. 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."

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Spaces Between 
(2007)

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A site-specific work for the foyers and public spaces to celebrate the re-opening of the Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre. Commissioned by the Southbank Centre, London,  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

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In Praise of Folly 
(2006)

Commissioned by the Candoco Dance Company, Queen’s Elizabeth Hall.

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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. Prior to the project Athina was supported by Candoco Company to research Renaissance Art guided by curators from the National Gallery and the Courtauld Institute and a three - month visit in Italy.   

Click here for further information and photos at for In Praise of Folly at the Candoco website. 

 

... 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 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.

MusicOHM.com

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By Your Leave 
(2005)

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An interpretation of the Spanish bullfight and its rituals created 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 bullring. Tall figures sharpening knives made a memorable image to open a series of sinister interactions which 'render human desire futile.'

Musical Pointers

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Wrestling an Angel 
(2004)


Commissioned by the Arts Council of England.

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A two-part, site-specific work for two different sites: 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.

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

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The Windows Were Walled 
(2003)

Commissioned by the Greenwich Dance Agency for London Open House.

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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. 

House of Kurtz 
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2002)

An Arts Council Commission and part of London Open House.

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Created for the Master Shipwright’s House in 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.


Click here to visit the project website.  

F-Stop 
(2001)

 

Commissioned by the Arts Council of England and supported by Greenwich Dance Agency.

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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 

Katja Werner, Dance Europe

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