Art, Arts & Life

Sex, knives, and clowning

Photo credit: Warren Humeny

By: Jillian Groening

Zorya Arrow stands in an empty gallery, mere days away from having her very first full-length show. She is buzzing with so much excitement it’s surprising the track lighting isn’t flickering and popping.

Arrow runs through a short tour of the creaky-floored space, the hardwood of which is riddled with minute sewing needles from its time as a garment factory. She spaces out her entrances and exits, and waves her arms to show how tables will be strategically placed to allow for prime viewing, critical when you’re working in a space dissected by large wooden posts.

After a rehearsal earlier in the day, Arrow sits wide-eyed, folded into a chair in the middle of the expansive space. The show, entitled A Cabaret, is made up of three separate solos by Arrow, as well as four musical segments created and performed by Anne-Marie Williot.

“Her role is more of the host, the MC of the evening, but she’s very much a part of it artistically, we just don’t interact with each other,” Arrow explains. “She’s there leading [the audience], taking care of them in between and guiding them into the next piece. We’ve been meeting once a week and she’s been really thoughtful about what [songs] she thinks would be suiting.”

Williot will be moving through the casually dispersed crowd between Arrow’s pieces, singing and playing the accordion, a perfect fit with the cabaret concept.

“I think it’s a good way to go with Anne-Marie because each of the pieces I’m presenting are very different from the next. Sure, they’re all coming from the same mind and there are going to be similarities, but in terms of subject matter or just feeling, the auras they give off are quite unique,” says Arrow, giggling at her natural use of the term aura.

“I wanted that diversity, it gives it more of that cabaret style,” says Arrow, her voice still bubbling with laughter. “You’re going to get a taste of this and a taste of that and you go home with all these things inside of you pulling you in these different directions. It’s very exciting.”

Arrow’s first solo in the show, titled ‘Mack’ but ominously nicknamed “the knife piece,” came about through a mentorship with Young Lungs Dance Exchange’s Tanja Woloshen.

“I came into the process with exploration in mind and thinking, ‘this is where my body is going and I’m just going to dive in.’ And I had brought in the song ‘Mack the Knife’ ’cause I had been listening to it a lot,” says Arrow. “It was definitely a partial influence but certain things kept on coming into my improvisation as well. There’s this open hand gesture that would come up, asking for something or needing something. And the sexuality!”

Upon observing some of Arrow’s improvisations, Woloshen mentioned the abundance of sexuality that was bubbling beneath the surface of the work and advised Arrow to acknowledge it.

“It was quite scary to realize where it was going,” Arrow says with a laugh.

One thing that makes Arrow’s work unique is the theatrical filter with which she creates and thinks about her work, as well as her acute sense of character.

“If I don’t have someone that’s behind [the work] then it doesn’t make sense to me. What eyes am I looking through?”

Last fall, Arrow attended a clown course under the instruction of David MacMurray Smith, and the influence is very apparent, especially in her second solo. The piece, called ‘Gwylan Speaks,’ is a structured improvisation inspired by her work as a standardized patient for medical student exams, an experience Arrow found fascinating.

“This sort of role-play within the medical system, thinking about being touched or being cared for but in this really clinical way… I thought, ‘I have to use this somehow,’” says Arrow.

The process of letting yourself absorb each moment while performing, critical for improv work, “allows for a magical realness, a truthfulness to emerge,” Arrow says. “But also with absurdity and really exaggerated characters. There’s this interesting contrast of, ‘it’s so real but it’s not so real.’”

The final solo is a piece Arrow created after graduating from the Senior Professional Program at the School of Contemporary Dancers in Winnipeg. ‘Normal Developmental Turmoil’ is a raw and poignant work, the surprisingly subtle end to an extravagant show, and a testament to Arrow’s ability to control an audience.

“I feel it’s so crucial to know what you’re wanting to do with the audience’s minds,” says Arrow. “You have a lot of power and what are you going to do with it? Use it wisely, I think.”

When asked to sum up the nature of the show, Arrow cackles.

“Traumatize ’em first, then make them laugh, and end with a hi-ya!”

A Cabaret is presented by Spewing Arrow Productions and will be shown at ace art gallery (2-290 McDermot Ave.) from April 24-26 at 10 p.m. nightly, with doors at 9:30 p.m. Admission is $10.

Jill Groening is a writer and dancer living in downtown Winnipeg with her two rats.

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