Liz Aggiss and Charlotta Öfverholm: Elixir Extracts

Lilian Baylis Studio Theatre, Sadler’s Wells, London
June 16, 2022

Established in 2014, the Elixir Festival returns in 2022 with Elixir Extracts at Sadler’s Wells. The publicity sums it up perfectly: “This year’s mini festival celebrates creative ageing and presents a range of workshops, films, artist talks and performances by mature performers.”

The Festival opened with a strong programme on June 16 in the Lilian Baylis Studio with two solo works performed by choreographers Liz Aggiss and Charlotta Öfverholm.

Liz Aggiss opened the show with Crone Alone, first devised in 2019. We could hear her before we saw her, pre warning us of her imminent arrival. When she did appear, the look was very bin-bag abattoir chic. The work is a mash up of many things (but not quite as mashed as Öfverholm’s that followed!). Aggiss offers spoken word verging on rap, balletic interludes and jerky movement phrases, all encompassed within a very long, drawn-out strip tease of sorts. She ends up in a blonde wig à la Marie-Antoinette via Uranus, and a flesh-tone leotard with (artificial) nipples, pubic hair and labia on display.

You can’t take your eyes off her though. She’s charismatic to the point of perplexing. Her spoken word shares a wide range of experiences and thoughts. At one point she speaks of the patriarchy, interspersed with puffs on a prop that can only be described as part cigar/poo/penis. As I said: perplexing. Her genius is herself though. What she offers is so genuine. Her show could work anywhere as she is the show. She seemed to be sharing her perception of the way she’s been, or is being, perceived. It felt personal, purposeful and profound.

Charlotta Öfverholm in Lucky
Photo Håkan Larsson

Lucky (2014) by Charlotta Öfverholm is a little less profound. Öfverholm is a wonderfully strong dancer, truly physical, but the piece is a little too random at times. It opens with a video of an open road out ahead with the choreographer’s voice encouraging us to relax. She starts to count backwards slowly and then emerges onto the stage dragging herself with her arms.

The movement language develops into an interesting, contradictive dynamic. She shows very skilled, precise movement that then segues into almost new born territory, like an infant deer trying to find its legs. It suggests elements of age-related perception: what’s expected as opposed to what’s possible.

And she can fall and tumble with the best of them. She mentions broken bones, which makes her physicality all the more arresting. But aspects didn’t work for me. Moments of audience interaction and participation didn’t really make sense. She also sings. The songs had a cabaret vibe but her vocals do not convince in the moment.

Lucky closes with two stage technicians entering the space and handing out drinks. They then support a ladder as Öfverholm climbs and sits on a swing suspended high from the lighting rig. And then blackout. Random. Very. Öfverholm is an astounding dancer, but this piece needs more thought. It is described as tragicomical in the programme notes. I’m all for new genre but need more convincing of its realisation in practice.

That said, hooray for the Elixir Festival and all of its iterations. It’s bittersweet that we need a festival to highlight the mature performer, but if we do, so be it. These performers should be seen. Experience can’t be taught. It needs to be lived. And that’s what was clearly on display: experience. Bring back Nederlands Dans Theater III already!