Sally Lewry's brave new performance work Cimarrón is a call to the wild. I wrote this review for uni after going to see it in March, but I thought I might as well share it with you too!
When I read that Sally Lewry’s new performance work Cimarrón hoped to reveal its audience’s inner “savage beast”, I felt a touch of dread that my viewing experience might involve eating dirt and making animal noises at my fellow theatre-goers. I’m a shyish person so audience participation is exactly the sort of thing I like to avoid. Brisbane’s Metro Arts celebrates risk-taking theatre and often hosts unconventional works with confronting messages. With this in mind, I arrive more scared than excited about what is in store for me.
The Sue Benner Theatre is mood lit with plush red chairs sloping to a dirt floor. It makes me think of a horse corral. My friend and I make up one third of the audience for tonight’s performance: the brave few? When the lights dim, the small room seems to grow huge. Despite my wariness, I find myself squinting into the shadows for signs of life.
A wild woman (played by director Lewry) tiptoes into view. Wearing a hessian mask and a fur coat back-to-front to expose her semi-nakedness, she represents the pure and primal animal part in us all. A hunter (Tamara Natt) lures and captures the wild woman. She strips her of her mask and coat and begins the gruelling process of breaking her spirit into submission. Observing ranchers breaking in wild horses inspired Lewry during the process of creating Cimarrón. This analogy is central to the narrative. Clever control of the lighting transforms the space into a cage or corral where the performers’ silhouettes on the walls heighten the sense of entrapment.
Like the use of lighting, the costuming choices also help to convey meaning. With so little else present on stage and only minimal dialogue, the costumes work overtime to double as props. There is a great deal of symbology at work. As the wild woman is gradually ‘broken in’ (horse analogy) she becomes more and more like her captor until she finally adopts the same uniform her captor wears. This uniform consists of a black sack-dress with two sashes attached at the neck. These sashes act like horse’s reins to control both women, revealing their submission to a higher power. This begs the question, does climbing higher on the social ladder mean becoming more enslaved by the system that structures that society? This is one of many challenging questions Cimmarón prompts its audience to consider.
Lewry’s goal as a performance artist and director is to create “evocative” and “original” works that wrestle with socio-political issues. She achieves this through physical and visceral theatre, of which Cimmarón is representative. Lewry and Natt’s performances in Cimarrón are highly physical. There is an exhausting amount of galloping around and digging involved. Because there is so little use of dialogue in the work, it puts faith in strong physical movement to impart the narrative. I doubt it would have been nearly as successful in presenting its poignant message if the story had depended on dialogue. Like all English teachers will tell their classes, it is better to show than to tell. Cimarrón tackles complex issues and puts forward a powerful message without leaning on the use of dialogue as a crutch. The experience of puzzling the meaning from the visual clues is much more engaging and memorable.
The title of the work, Cimarrón, is a Spanish word meaning “that which cannot be tamed”. Lewry points out it is also a word used to refer to slaves that have escaped captivity to live on the edges of society. In a crucial scene near the end of the performance, blaring music stirs the wild woman into a gallop on the spot. Her abandonment of self-control is infectious. She allows her primal instinct to run wild, spitting, sighing, hair flicking, completely freed. This is an intimate moment that has a remarkably immersing quality. If there was a real horse galloping onstage it could not have been any more captivating. For the first time during the performance, the tension in my body relaxes and I feel completely at ease. If only she could gallop forever. If only I could join her. I realise this moment unlocked a small part of my own inner animal. When it ended, I felt disappointed to leave it behind. It speaks to the ability of Cimarrón to inspire a visceral reaction and stir up from within a bit of “savage beast”: that which cannot be tamed.
I entered Metro Arts timid of having to do things that made me feel uncomfortable. I left that shyness behind. Practically galloping down the stairs and out into the Brisbane twilight, I felt riled up inside with an animal energy I couldn’t yet explain. Through its narrative of domestication, Cimarrón urges its audience to ask if we have become slaves to the socio-political structure we created. Lewry argues we have. The story of the wild woman is a cautionary tale, warning against letting the conventions and structures of society enslave our inner animals. But it is also a call to the wild to stop silencing that inner beast. It may not have been as confronting as I dreaded beforehand, but what I didn’t expect was to be quite so moved.
2014. “Artist – Sally Lewry.” Accessed March 14, 2014. http://metroarts.com.au/artist/sally-lewry/
2014. “Metro Arts Brisbane – Artistic Statement.” Accessed March 20, 2014. http://metroarts.com.au/artistic-statement/
2014. “Metro Arts Brisbane – Cimarrón.” Accessed March 14, 2014. http://metroarts.com.au/posts/cimarron/
Huxley, Matt. 2014. “The Domestication of the Human: A Review of Cimarrón.” Accessed March 11, 2014. http://www.moustachemagazine.com/2014/03/the-domestication-of-the-human-a-review-of-cimarron/
Lewry, Sally. 2014. Cimarrón. Writer Sally Lewry. Performed Brisbane, Sue Benner Theatre: Metro Arts. Performance: Theatre (viewed 12 March, 2014).
Lewry, Sally. 2014. “About.” Accessed March 14, 2014. http://www.sallylewry.com/about-1/
Lewry, Sally. 2014. “Cimarrón.” Accessed March 12, 2014. http://www.sallylewry.com/work/cimarrón/