Fringe Review: “Absence” a beautiful interdisciplinary meditation on helplessness and liberation


Photo Credit: Carolyn Alam

Absence is a beautiful interdisciplinary meditation on helplessness and liberation by Christina Swanson and WIP productions. The 30-minute interpretive dance performance, directed by Caroly Alam, features recorded and live audio to which Swanson, a trained opera singer herself, relives a traumatic episode in her life: a vocal injury which forced her on total vocal rest for a period of three months which resulted in written notes on her phone as her primary means of communication. On top of that, this harrowing experience coincided with the break up from her partner. The documented and recorded messages from this period of Swanson’s life, effectfully looped and mixed by sound designer Efthimi Matsamakis, form the acoustic backdrop for the first half of this intimate, raw and ultimately beautiful show.

Swanson’s performance is intricate and vulnerable. Her movements, while not always precise, suggesting some degree of structured improvisation in their creation, are effective and viscerally convey her insecurity, helplessness and pain. Through repetition of sound and movement she energetically emphasizes her struggle and highlights the sense self-doubt and compunction she is plunged into at this agonizing time. Through her soundtrack we learn of her insecurities: a stream of apologies, even for the current mute state she is in because she doesn’t want to take excessive amounts of opioid-based medication. And of course those stoic phrases which are used by many women all too liberally: “That was my fault” and “I’m fine!”

Photo Credit: Carolyn Alam

The rigour with which she uses her body translates her pain with an unmediated clarity. It has to be noted that it seems regrettable that Swanson makes too little use of the space she has at her disposal. At times the impact of her meditation on these extensive emotions might have benefited from a greater physical presence in her space.

The second half of the show the show has a lighter tone. Swanson sings and records non-verbal fragments which she loops over and over, creating a sound blanket which eventually forms the soundtrack to her choreography. Her voice is superb, betraying nothing of that injury which rendered her speechless in the past. This second part tells us of her desire for liberty, emotional stillness and unity with the world. The more soothing audio backdrop provides a welcome relief from the cathartic end of the first part. Swanson’s physical presence expands somewhat as she experiences a sense of this oneness but she never seems quite comfortable enough to extend her performance beyond the centre part of the stage. Nevertheless the charm and grace of her interpretation make this little piece thoroughly enjoyable.

Anyone who has ever felt lost, helpless or overwhelmed.

Drink suggestion:
A nice, throat-soothing tea. Personally I prefer the iced variety from Long Island.

WIP Productions presents “Absence”
at the 29th St-Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival

Performances: June 7 – 16, 2019
Venue: 08 – Black Theatre Workshop Studio
3680 Jeanne-Mance, Montréal, H2X 2K5  
Admission: $10 – 12 | Ages 12+
Box Office:
514.849.FEST (3378)

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