Alexandrina Helmsley is one half of dance duo Project O and an Associate Artist at The Yard Theatre. Alongside Dan Hutton and Yard producer Ashleigh Wheeler, she programmed the open call-out artists for NOW 17 festival. Alexandrina initially performed in NOW 14 as an open call-out artist and was invited to return for NOW 15 as a mentoring artist. Here Alexandrina speaks with Marion Burge about her work, her process and what drove her to create Nebula.
What led you to make this particular work?
I was led to this work by a feeling of discomfort in my own skin.Or rather a discomfort that I felt had always been there, that my mixed race body always feels separate in all of my communities. I wanted to investigate that yearning to belong that I have by looking at what it means to feel alien. I also happen to love sci-fi and space, so I decided to follow my impulse and make a sci-fi adventure about mixed race belonging.
Interviews have shaped some of the Nebula’s material. Could you tell me some more about who you interviewed and why? As well as what that process revealed to you (if anything)?
The interviews were very tricky. Mixed race people don’t often feel comfortable talking about their mixed-race status and what it means to them that they are more than one ethnicity or more than one race. I wanted to make Nebula originally because I wanted to explore my own feelings, but no person who is of mixed ethnicity has the same experiences as another. A lot of people struggle with their Mixedness and a lot of people don’t think about it at all. I didn’t want to make a piece that was trying to carve out a space to start the conversation, without allowing space for other voices too, so it made sense to insert narratives that weren’t my own into the work. More than anything, the interviews reminded me that the conversation isn’t being had enough for us to have found any answers to any of our questions and that in itself is important and interesting. The lack of resolution runs through my ideas now in a way that I am more comfortable with, because I have been lucky enough to share the work with these people who gave their stories to me.
How would you describe the live performance scene/landscape you work within/around?
My landscape as a theatre maker is very white and middle class. I’ve become more aware of it as I make more work. It isn’t something that will change soon either. I’m aware that making work about non white experiences is important but I’m also aware that I’m working with a white audience in mind a lot of the time, even when I don’t realise it. I’m glad that I make experimental performance, because I’m less restricted. I can show how hard it is to articulate things in my community by actively and consciously being ‘inarticulate’ on stage and having space to let these troubling or confusing ideas play out. More importantly this ‘live art’ landscape provides a place to have a voice, which is slightly harder in conventional theatre. Recently, I’ve been really encouraged by seeing more people of colour making experimental performance and testing the boundaries of the form and that so many of these artists are so unapologetic about it. I find myself worrying about how ‘accessible’ my work will be for an audience and its hard not to think like that. I like that I can see more people talking about things that I didn’t realise I wanted to see being spoken about in performance. I think the landscape is changing and its exciting to imagine what it’ll become.
As a fellow daydreaming person of colour I’m interested to know, what tempted you or made you want to investigate flying away or flying beyond this world/ this reality?
I think I wanted to make something fantastic and spacey because those things feel more limitless. I’m drawn to afro-futurism because it imagines a better world or a more advanced, sophisticated ideal where we can leave behind all these traumatic or negative things that have happened to people of colour and we can start again. we fly away from white supremacy and patriarchy and societal rules that tell us constantly that we are ‘other’. In space we are all aliens building new realities. We’re flukes and coincidences. Space and flying away, for me are safer because I don’t know whats out there and I’m dissatisfied with what’s here. Human beings have always sought answers by looking out at the stars and the universe. That resonated with me when making the work because thats what I was doing. I may never get any answers but the idea or traveling bravely through space to find them is a hopeful one.