Raving 17,736 km from Berlin

I feel like I’m committing the biggest artistic sin: making a completely unresearched work. The work in question is my upcoming show, The Butterfly Who Flew Into The Rave, which I am collaboratively choreographing and performing with Lucy Lynch and Sharvon Mortimer, and produced by Abbie Rogers. The show is nestled in an abundantly queer summer arts season and raves loudly as part of the Pride Elevates program at the Auckland Pride Festival. 

Lucy Lynch by Matt Hurley.

The lack of research, or more so lack of real-life experience, is making a rave Berlin-esque-inspired work having never crossed a single border in Europe. Well, raves aren’t explicitly owned by Berlin, we also have New York underground scenes or Aussie bush doofs. But my experiences of a few Family Bar nights and a miserable attempt at Northern Bass don’t quite compare to a doctorate in raving. 

Then what qualifies me to make a rave work? 

Nathan Joe, Auckland Pride’s Artistic Director and queer arts leader, met with me to discuss programming the work in this year’s festival after having read my pitch in a Basement Theatre programming round. It was when Nathan asked me whether or not I had been to Berlin before that his eyes lit up with the prospect of me making a distanced and fully fantasised interpretation of a Berlin rave. What had initially been a pitch to begin a series of developments to research, quickly became a green light to cracking open a dreamscape of hopes, delusion, misinterpretations, and fantasies. So began my exploration of rave culture and techno living with audacity, designing a utopia populated with movement in a credulous yet fantastical way. Our idealised rave. 

As artists, we put ourselves into situations to yield products that non-artists aren’t able to access. We put ourselves through physical endurance to create a bi-product of movement. We collect the residue from trauma and use it as our palette. We indulge in heartbreaks and ex-girlfriends for months just to make the live performance feel the utmost authentic. We turn pages and pages and talk and chat and scroll and copy URLs to feel researched. But remove all that and we investigate a sense of naivety, blissful ignorance, a composed reality.

Sharvon Mortimer by Matt Hurley.

The Butterfly Who Flew Into The Rave rejects many of our contemporary dance norms, techniques, and philosophies, and making under-researched work challenges the fear of being questioned about validity. But framed in the beautiful context of Auckland Pride Festival’s theme, ‘Beyond Paradise’, a new passage of making opens. ‘Beyond Paradise’ calls to bring forth dreams and ideals, letting queer imagination and liberation be at first a dream, and then a reality. To me, the festival speaks to challenging the “Oh that’s too hard,” notion, a phrase usually paired with an eye roll. In a time where arts funding is limited, political gain is at the expense of human rights, and war-engulfed Instagram stories beg us to question “Do I really make a difference?”, ‘Beyond Paradise’ dares us to lasso a reality out of our reach and pull it closer. 

Bedrooms filled with hope, lunch breaks spent exiled from the boys, and Google searches clawing for clues—if there is one thing queer people know how to do, it’s dream. Spending years crafting utopias in silence, we are architects of imagination. Queers are experts at seeking the beyond. And if you’ve seen paradise, you definitely know queer people run that shiz. Maybe you’ll find paradise at a rave. Maybe we’ll take you beyond paradise at ours. 

So where does that leave our dance show? The work is dense and rigorous, with an aim to achieve a high complexity with movement. We detail gestures and musical rhythms by embroidering the choreography with the finest of beads to create an intricate, textural, visual feast. Choreographically the work looks at taking ridiculousness and obscuring it into reality, setting the artistically unfathomable challenge of creating highly detailed movement that is then proven to be set through perfect unison. It is a steroid-injected pop quiz of dance tested between us three performers. The indulgence of unison pushes against the abundant individualism and trends we are seeing in dance today, revolting against the contemporary notion that unison can be cheap. It sits at an intersection between my interest in experimental endurance performance fused with high entertainment value, foreign aesthetics, and a contemporary dance core. The work is camp, finding the outrageous and the ridiculous, bringing the unnecessary on stage. Why would any human put themselves through this rigour? Not because we want to, but because the human body can.

Oli Mathieson by Matt Hurley.

Through this, we are creating our rave. Finding a sense of euphoria, a sense of community, transcendence, escapism. All the same things that others seek while raving come to the surface. Maybe the work is less so about recreating a rave but finding a different path to achieve the same result as one. Or maybe it’s looking at taking an improvised movement form and putting it into trained dance bodies. Or maybe it is simply letting the music command us to rave, whatever shape that takes. We sweat, we fight, we die, and die again. The show is the destruction of us in the face of ecstasy. Resuscitation on repeat. It is the come up and the come down all in one and highlights the beauty of feeling alive but all the consequences that come with it. And although I have never been to Berlin or raved in New York, I have raved against time, felt my heart rave, sung in the rave. Every day we rave in some sense of the word, and that there is my research.

The Butterfly Who Flew Into The Rave is running from 20–24 February and tickets are available from Basement Theatre.

Featured photos by Matt Hurley.


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