Modern Woman in Search of Soul / Mirror Staging the Seeing Place

Two Works by Sasha Ivanochko

Modern Woman in Search of Soul

Performed by Alana Elmer, Jacob Niedzwieki  (performer/interactive designer) and Vicky Mettler (composer/musician)

Mirror Staging the Seeing Place

Performed by Kristy Kennedy

Produced by Ivanochko et Cie

Presented by Citadel et Compagnie at The Citadel, Toronto

June 6-9, 2018


Reviewed by Beverley Daurio


These two hour-long works by Sasha Ivanochko are mirror images of each other: “Modern Woman in Search of Soul” focuses on the external pressures on women from society, and “Mirror Staging the Seeing Place” explores internalized forces that distort women’s self-esteem.

“Modern Woman in Search of Soul” can be viewed as a powerful solo by Alana Elmer. There are two other performers on stage (a “videographer” and a “musician”), but they are hooded with full masks, like 18th century executioners or characters from a bondage video. The piece opens with a white fog surrounding what looks like a pornographic photo shoot, with Elmer contorting herself on the floor and the hooded Niedzwieki brazenly leering with the camera. The anonymity of the two hooded figures is disconcerting, and they stand in for the constant pushing and observation of women, who are represented in this piece by Alana Elmer. Elmer wears a pale beige costume (with black bars on sexual parts, as in old-time magazines) that keeps being stripped back, so that through the piece she has less and less clothing. The music—absract and directive— is intensely played by Vicky Mettler, who is dressed and behaves asexually, while Jacob Niedzwieki follows Elmer around the stage constantly, with the camera pointed at her.

Elmer has a very strong stage presence combined with delicacy of movement, and a voice that effortlessly keeps up with the theatrical and speaking demands of this piece despite the physical demands on her body. Ivanochko challenges her dancers to the extreme, deeply engaging us with their struggle. Elmer makes it look easy, but that is a large part of the beauty and empathy of this performance—and part of the daily struggle of women.

The fourth character in “Modern Woman in Search of Soul” is the audience. Ivanochko cleverly plays with audience participation, with audience voyeurism (beginning with the opening scene), and with audience complicity. A major narrative of the piece is Elmer calling out adjectives that fit with each letter of the alphabet, seemingly trying to honestly describe herself (not all of the adjectives are positive). She is ambitious, aggressive, brave, beautiful, courageous, careful, and so on. There is a coupling of structure—order, logic—here, with language, that is then broken.

In a repeated diagonal, Elmer begins to dance trippingly back and forth, and to play a game of asking the audience who she is—rather like dance/mime charades, where the audience is asked to shout out the answers. It is evidence of Ivanochko’s wizardry that she slowly reels the audience in, to beginning to call out dirtier and harsher names, from “cow” to “bitch” to much worse. This elicits a feeling of shock in the audience, a gut sense of collusion, and more empathy for Elmer’s character, who suffers through this and then returns to the alphabet, as if the terrible experiences have been put aside.


“Mirror Staging the Seeing Place” is performed in the round in the lower large room at The Citadel, with the audience’s chairs in a large semi-circle, keeping a view of one wall that is covered with mirrors and the performer in the middle. As we enter, Kristy Kennedy is using blue glass cleaner and a cloth to wipe down the mirrors; she is wearing jogging pants and a graphic t-shirt. After a while, Kennedy strips down to a short-sleeved ballet leotard, and begins to study herself in the recently shined glass.

In this work, Ivanochko creates incredible tensions between the humble approach of Kennedy—from cleaning the glass to the simplest and most exposing of costumes—and Kennedy’s clear strength, stamina, power, intelligence and beauty, as she torments herself in the mirror, reflecting the stigmatizing grimace and contortions of women against themselves, as they have internalized messages of inferiority, subservience (which does not have the dignity of humility), and ugliness. Kennedy fights to gain her power and to own it, as her body is distorted not only in front of us, but in the mirror, where she appears doubled; by amazing lighting craft, the mirror itself seems as deep as a pool. Neither is Ivanochko entirely without criticism of women; there is a resonance with the tale of Narcissus here, something else that Kennedy fights against in this very moving and powerful piece.

Ivanochko manages to intertwine the visceral with the philosophical, the ordinary with the extreme, and the mundane with the utterly thought-provoking. These two works reveal and mine fascinating social and individual stresses, and open and address the links between them.