Review: Dance Plant Collective with “MEAT”, Best Newcomer at Auckland Fringe 2018September 13th, 2018
Having attended a slaughterhouse vigil this year, I’d seen, through slots in arriving trucks, wide-eyed animals crammed together.
In-between their arrival, refrigerated trucks drove in and out of Auckland Meat Processors, picking up the dismembered pieces of those who had only a short time before, faced the worst possible moments of their lives.
While we all know what happens, the conveyor belt of arrival, death, dismemberment, and dispersal, struck home. Seeing the living, who, though yet to know it, were about to be killed, fragmented, put onto polystyrene trays and wrapped in plastic took this awareness to a new level. It was also clear that when supermarkets say ‘fresh’ they mean life was being lived by someone with a heartbeat, just hours ago.
The missing piece in my vigil experience was witnessing this time in-between the arrival and refrigeration trucks.
It was this missing piece, choreographed by Tui Hofmann, that performance group Dance Plant Collective provided, sparing the audience while at the same time transporting us to the killing floor.
In Auckland’s snug Basement Theatre, the audience close enough to the performers to soak up the visceral experience and feel part of the scene, animal-dancers, some having watched slaughterhouse videos, showed us what is so ugly society must be protected from seeing it.
Sonic music by Alex Zielinski, a composer with a techno background drove up the tension with a relentless, beating track, meeting animal-dancer in the place where disbelief meets terror. Zielinski watched butcher tutorials to extract his interpretation of the sounds of killing and somehow, he hit the right notes.
If you’re ever going to ‘get’ what it might be like in a slaughterhouse, this performance is it.
Upon arrival, the audience was greeted by the slow convulsions of a lone animal-dancer. Crouched on the floor as we took our seats, slowly orienting us towards what we were about to see, the convulsions increased in pace, intensity, and violence, warming us up for what was to come. Others animal-dancers draped as dead animal bodies up high over scaffolding, mimicking what we euphemistically call ‘carcasses’, descended to the floor.
One performer had leather platform shoes over her hands and feet, moving on all fours, somehow fragile and innocent and helpless. This powerful portrayal of hooves and legs, alongside the initial bewilderment of the performers as they gathered, brought home how far outside the lives of animals this chamber of death was.
There was a touching scene where gentle animals sniffed each other, innocent, curious, tender, inquisitive before realisation struck, terror replacing tender as slaughter commenced, a conveyor belt of innocence and viciousness laid bare, the death throes violent and repulsive to witness. You would have to be made of stone not to be powerfully moved as bewildered animal-dancers realised there was no escape.
A voice-over, sanitized, instructed how and where to slash and cut and quarter. This brought to mind benign depictions of the suffering of humans, removed from the minds of the masters, in The Handmaid’s Tale.
Slaughter and so-called glamour, juxtaposed in a mad scene of fashion consumption and over-consumption, an animal-dancer’s powerful depiction of the vain, self-satisfied wearing of fashion becoming something that both choked and devoured her, bringing to mind the oceans that our waste is choking the life out of, and threatening the very survival of the planet.
This portrait of suffering for the frivolous and throwaway also brought to mind fashion parades held at the races, where glamour draws young women to an industry that gambles on the suffering and death of horses prior to slaughter for pet food.
The scene of posing and pride on the catwalk, look-at-me-wearing-what-doesn’t-belong-to-me, not my fur, not my skin, swathed in excess plastic (recycled and old from the shed of Hofmann’s father) unravelled into waste and death.
These were not the false advertising scenes of happy animals on green pastures used to promote animal consumption but the ugly, unbearable, unglamorous truth.
Politically challenging, it is difficult to describe the power of this piece.
As a therapist I had to wonder what killing does to the minds and hearts of those that must maintain significant detachment and dissociation to kill for us, to make sure we can eat that burger, drink that milk and eat that cheese.
We know slaughterhouse workers suffer from high rates of PTSD, alcohol and drug use, domestic violence, anxiety and depression. The animal-killing industry harms not only animals, but our fellow human beings, and that must surely give us pause for thought.
Among the questions MEAT asks us is just how valid is taking the lives of others? And what is it doing not only to animals and the environment but to the humans doing this dirty work for us?
Author: Lynn Charlton, a registered psychotherapist, writer and anti-rodeo campaigner.