culture | 8th February 2017
The performance was sleek, full and captivating, rather than confronting. It was a seamless blend of her movements with the music, limited by the size of the plank.
words: charlotte doyle
photographs: peter mcleavey gallery
Zahra Killeen-Chance is an award-winning dancer and choreographer based in Auckland, New Zealand with a diverse portfolio of performances both around New Zealand and internationally. In February 2017, she debuted her work ‘Subject of my Devotion’ at the Peter McLeavey gallery on Cuba Street in Wellington. This is one attendee’s personal impression of her dance.
Zahra Killeen-Chance has very impressive core muscles. After fifteen minutes of watching her slowly twisting her way from lying flat to upright, I concluded that her abs must surely be rock solid. Most of her moves would have me shaking in a pilates class. Zahra’s dance was part of her exhibition Subject of My Devotion at the Peter McLeavey gallery. Olivia McLeavey had emailed me the day about an ‘unusual’ performance, excitedly telling me to come along and bring any friends - it would start at 5.30 pm sharp.
The day of the dance was a particularly bland day, another of Wellington’s spectacularly failed attempts at ‘summer’. Wet and muggy; windy but somehow hot. The Peter McLeavey Gallery’s swathes of natural light and white walls were incongruous with the moodiness outside. Attendees spread themselves around the edge of the room at around 5.32pm, holding glasses of wine and bottles of beer. In the middle lay a thin plank of deep-blue lacquered wood.
On each wall hung larger-than-life sized photographs of figures printed on silk. Each work named after the colour of the fabric concealing the individual – Navy, Red and Cream - the only facial feature visible is a screaming mouth through a hole in a hood. Bare arms humanise the others. On a small table sit a chess-piece assortment of smooth silhouettes, equally as anonymous and somehow disconcerting.
The artist emerged and placed herself flat on the plank in a long orange knitted dress, her brown hair slicked back and exposed skin immaculately painted gold. Eyes closed. I noticed that the orange dress completely covered her arms and hands; a glove that looked hard to get into. Classical music started to play through a UE Boom, a piece that was very familiar (but by which composer I have no idea). Zahra incrementally began to move. Her eyes opening very slowly.
"It was refreshing to watch Zahra moving in her tubular, long orange dress with woolen-clad hands."
The performance art pieces I’ve seen recently have tended to expose rather than enhance the female body. It was refreshing to watch Zahra moving in her tubular, long orange dress with woolen-clad hands. The royal colours of deep blue and orange and gold were very carefully matched creating a rich and captivating visual image. The performance was sleek, full and captivating, rather than confronting. It was a seamless blend of her movements with the music, limited by the size of the plank. She was perfectly in time. Her extensive experience as a performance artist and dancer was obvious, never breaking her persona or a sweat.
The movements were both what you expected for the style of music, yet also surprising. Parts of a song that would most likely prompt wild dance moves from me, she approached with delicacy. The medley of songs played throughout the fifteen minutes created different responses and movements. Each song had a different tempo and style.
"Despite the beauty, it was still challenging and almost unsettling to watch."
Despite the beauty, it was still challenging and almost unsettling to watch. Zahra never made eye contact with the audience. She would stare straight through them, always expressionless, either into space or at the midpoint of someone’s chest. The tightness of her dress betrayed even her breathing, but despite standing right by her head, she never took account of my presence.
This intimacy also meant I had to exercise extreme self-control when I needed to sneeze while holding a nearly-full glass of red wine. The lack of audience engagement was voyeuristic. I sometimes felt like a bit of a creep. Afterwards, someone told me it reminded them of Miranda July’s ‘The Shirt Dance’ in her movie The Future. July similarly twists around her bedroom in a t-shirt, oblivious to a man staring at her through the doorway.
PPP by Beach House was Zahra’s finale. This particular song triggered personal memories (it’s one of my most played on Apple Music) and made me think about how I might dance to it alone in my bedroom - of course also controlled and impeccably in time. The song gradually ended, Zahra stopped moving and then looking straight ahead, at a point on the white walls of the gallery, she made her way out the door. Left behind were gold footprints and smudges on the blue lacquer, a reminder of the previous fifteen minutes of activity. I wondered how she would get it all off, both the wood and her skin, for her next dance.
zara killeen chance: www.zahrakilleenchance.com
peter mcleavey gallery: www.petermcleaveygallery.com
s mortimer + z killeen-chance: @sm_zkc
peter mcleavey gallery: @petermcleaveygallery
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