Plastic Belly Explores And Dances Through Human Connection For Horizon Festival

Published in Arts  
'Plastic Belly' 'Plastic Belly' Image © Itamar Freed

On a secluded beach in Coolum, two performers dance to represent and explore human connection.


'Plastic Belly', by Sunshine Coast-based choreographer Courtney Scheu and visual artist Itamar Freed, aims to capture to ever-present tension between the desire for intimacy and the primal need for self-protection.

A giant, blue tarpaulin is a character in itself, shape-shifting and changing throughout the work.

It's being presented online as part of the Sunshine Coast's Horizon Festival.

Here, Courtney and Itamar answer questions about 'Plastic Belly'.

Where did the idea behind this work come from?
This work began with Courtney’s interest in post-apocalyptic landscapes and scenarios. Thework developed naturally through the process of creation and ideas emerged as we went. We looked at references from the natural world, major events in human history, iconic artworks and the idea of the global human experience. It also emerged from happy accidents. To share a secret, the tarp was originally included as a ground cover and became a fundamental part of the work once we realised the sculptural beauty of the tarp. The work developed like an organism, something ever-evolving and affected by its surroundings, adapting itself.

In each of your own words, give us a sentence that sums up 'Plastic Belly'.
Courtney: 'Plastic Belly' is a world unto itself. Two women emerge into the unknown; their fantasies and fears personified by the shape-shifting, ephemeral belly of a blue, plastic tarpaulin.
Itamar: 'Plastic Belly' explores our lived experience of this extraordinary time, navigating the boundaries of a new future and capturing the ever-present tension between the desire for intimacy and the primal need for self-protection.

Courtney, do you feel a different kind of connection to a work when you perform it, if you have choreographed it yourself, like this one?
I feel a very strong connection to the work. As I choreographed and performed the work, the process involved a lot of self-observation and discussion. Test an idea, view the footage, find a solution. . . Test an idea, view the footage, find a solution. Sometimes it feels quite ridiculous, as we have no idea what actions and shapes look like from under the tarp. So the creation process involved a lot of laughter.
On-site for Horizon Art Festival Homegrown in Third Bay Coolum, on beautiful Gubbi Gubbi/Kabi Kabi country, the beach was constantly changing. Each day we would arrive and the sand had shifted and the wind would come from a different direction, dramatically changing how the tarp would behave. This required us to be very present, attentive and adaptive which is thrilling as a performer.
It felt very empowering to be in the work. The work requires strength and power, delicacy and fragility, total dependency and commitment to one another. It really is a journey for both performer and audience.



Courtney, when you were choreographing it, what sorts of things were you taking into consideration?
As a team, we spoke a lot about human connection in the context of post-apocalyptic films. We also discussed the persisting memory of the universal human experience across time and how our collective consciousness would impact action and choice in a post-apocalyptic scenario. We researched movement in the context of how a person would actually react, physically in such a situation.
We considered the relationship of each performer to the tarp and to one another and how these relationships evolve.
The materials, tarp and the sandbags are materials related to survival and protection (ie. used in floods, after hurricanes, in war scenarios etc). The use of them in this context allows us to consider how humans relate to each other in times of survival, how we support each other, move together in times of grief.
Nature and space are inherently connected to the work. Being in and creating a sense of a vast, open and rough landscape was important for us to achieve the sense of a whole universe in this small moment.

Itamar, as a visual artist, tell us a little bit about what you have brought to the work.
I was intrinsically involved in the creation process. I have been a kind of motor, bringing associations and new connections of imagery and movement stimulus. I would sometimes contribute National Geographic footage that informed movement language and at other times I would take what we had and flip it, giving new meaning. I would encourage the dancers to take movement ideas further.
The work is very visually aesthetic. The tarp, the material of the tarp and colour is highly specific in its choice. The material reflects light very beautifully. I contributed specific choices around when and how action is veiled and unveiled. As my primary art form is photography, I was also involved in camera angles and choices for the film. I have dreams of developing the work further with new materials at a grand scale.

Itamar, what makes this performance stand out to you?
It brings up conversation and strong emotional reactions around current issues, especially at this time. It talks about the end of the world, environmental issues, some people see addiction, some people see the tarp as representing 'home'. For us, the work is a mash-up, a combination, a tornado of the things that affect our lives: movies, music, TV, news, literature, art history, nature and natural disasters. It’s like a black hole that sucked in all of our experiences and spat the work out, talking through the blue tarpaulin.
The work adapts to the spaces where it is performed. It can be performed almost anywhere and the characteristics of the place gives a new perspective. Also, due to the tarp, every performance of the work is different. The tarp is a different creature.

PlasticBelly ItamarFreed2
Image © Itamar Freed

Why do both of you think the themes within 'Plastic Belly' are important for exploration?
At this time when human connection, shared experience, listening and understanding, are more relevant than ever, it felt fundamental for us to explore and express what human connection might be when reduced to basic elements of two people, natural landscape and a foreign object. There is an interesting tension between these things in the work.
The foreign material and natural landscape act in unpredictable ways, perhaps reminiscent of the unfamiliar situation of COVID-19; how do we as humans navigate these new circumstances together? At times the material is all consuming, covering bodies at other times, it moves in harmony with the dancers as they support each other to navigate the new terrain.
The work also explores how people relate to one another, understanding and accepting how each individual is experiencing and processing a given situation.

For both of you, how important was it to film 'Plastic Belly' on a beach?
It would be very interesting to perform the work in other natural locations, but this is the place we were drawn to first. The beach is a changing environment, a shifting landscape. The beach is a place of endings and beginnings, it is the edge of the land and beginning of the ocean. A border place in limbo.
The beach is also an interesting landscape because of its capacity to transcend time. It’s a space with minimal visual clutter where our experience of time slows and relaxes.
There is a sense of ongoingness and deep connection with the past and future at the beach. Just as the waves have come and gone and the tide has come in and out for centuries and will continue to do so in the future. This pandemic (like others in the past) will come and go. It may leave a mark or imprint on our lives, but with the passing of time and resilience, healing will occur, like in nature, and new stories will emerge.
The artificial colour of the tarp is stark against the natural colour of the ocean. It was also important to let the wind affect the tarp and bring life into it. It is vital for us to share the beautiful coastline of the Sunshine Coast and the necessity of preserving coastal environments.

How are you hoping audiences react to the work?
In amongst the overwhelm of media during this pandemic the calming pace of this work provides an important reflective space for audiences to consider human connection, our relationship to nature and unfamiliar situations.

'Plastic Belly' will be available to watch online for free from 21 June, for Horizon Festival.

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