Simone Aughterlony, Bern, Switzerland

Written by:
John Sullivan
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‘We Need to Talk’

Choreographed and performed by Simone Aughterlony
Dampfzentrale Bern
Tanz In Bern: International Festival
Bern, Switzerland
Oct. 19–Nov. 6, 2011

The spacecraft Voyager and the human being Simone Aughterlony share the same lift-off date, of sorts: Voyager blasted into space on the same day Aughterlony was born in 1977. Zurich-based Aughterlony uses this dramatic convergence as the foundation for her most recent performance piece, “We Need to Talk.”

The Voyager spacecraft explored Jupiter and Saturn and then outer solar-system space. Soon it will exit our solar system. “The Sounds of Earth,” which was produced by NASA to accompany Voyager (one can listen to excerpts at the NASA website), provides a humorous score, which Aughterlony uses as her foil. Scientist Carl Sagan calls this “Golden Record” a “time capsule.” Can you imagine aliens listening, according to NASA, to “a 12-inch gold-plated copper disk containing sounds and images selected to portray the diversity of life and culture on Earth”? The Voyager journey, paralleled with cabaret dance, sets up an expectation of creative exploration, but movement itself takes a backseat to Aughterlony’s textual monologue.

Aughterlony suggests we think about how aliens might hear these sounds, assuming that aliens know how to play a “gold-plated copper disk.” There’s a message of intergalactic communication that Aughterlony wisely does not overstate. Nor does she overstate how the world was already globalized in 1977. Aughterlony grew up in New Zealand, yet seems to have followed the American space ship’s trajectory her whole life. Early on, Aughterlony engages our desire to explore her original kinesthetic sense of the body and the restlessness of her thoughts.

Through text, “We Need to Talk” encapsulates bits of Aughterlony’s life, but I’d like to see more unique juxtapositions of her body in space. For example, her recreation of a childhood Mexican dance with arm flourishes might develop into something less recognizable. After all, a woman who once used her parents’ end-times underground bunker as a dance studio certainly has a lot more to offer than recreated childhood dances. As the audience, we are the aliens listening and watching Aughterlony’s personal performative time capsule. But early on, too soon, a gigantic huge rubber earth ball is deflated, and Aughterlony pulls it about the stage, musing how she might recycle the ball someday. Nevertheless, Aughterlony’s quixotic movement sustains “We Need to Talk.” She moves with unadulterated exuberance and engaging quirkiness.

Imagine Voyager rocketing through space and time; we want Aughterlony to do more of the same. Yet the text spoken by Aughterlony uses simplistic transitions: “So I’m 6 years old… and I’m reflecting.” Rather than following the possibilities of her text, Aughterlony dismisses the very construction of the text, which she has set in motion; for example, she asks: “Am I just matter? Does it matter?” She lets this and other questions fall flat, unanswered. Perhaps if the text were used as the basis for further creative movement explorations rather than straight talk, the integration between monologue, dance, and the Voyager’s journey might be more complete.

Renée E. D’Aoust
Renée E. D’Aoust’s nonfiction book, “Body of a Dancer,” is being published by Etruscan Press, December 2011. For more information, please see:

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