Inspired by music from Sóley, Mother Melancholia is a strangely beautiful film directed by multidisciplinary artist, performer, director of theatre and film, and movement artist Samantha Shay co-commissioned by Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch and Artistic Director Bettina Wagner-Bergelt. Shay, who performs in the film, is joined by equally charismatic women Barbara Kaufmann, Chalia La Tour, and Breanna O’Mara. One of the things that most struck me throughout the film were the rich and vibrant and sometimes basic colors that reminded me of the High Renaissance Italian painter, sculptor, architect and poet Michelangelo.
According to Wikipedia, “Melancholia or melancholy is a concept found throughout ancient, medieval and premodern medicine in Europe that describes a condition characterized by markedly depressed mood, bodily complaints, and sometimes hallucinations and delusions.” Mother Melancholia is certainly filled with scenes, movement and text that evoke these emotions, but it is also a film about four women’s separate but entwined feelings of love, loneliness, fear, angst and inter-generational suffering.
The film opens with Chalia La Tour dressed in what appears to be a mauve wedding gown with a elegant pearl shoulder necklace. She’s wearing a white veil covering her face and a tiara made of red roses. She speaks of feeling safe but appears anything but secure. La Tour is originally from Stockton, California and is a 2020 Tony nominee for her work in the critically acclaimed Broadway production of Slave Play and a recipient of the Antonyo award for Best Featured Actor in a Broadway Play.
Wearing a white corset backwards, white pantaloons and a sheer pink blouse, Breanna O’Mara ( former Tantzheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch dancer currently working with Dmitris Papaiouannou) moves like those toys that one controls its movements by manipulating the gadget’s base. The toy is a collection of beads sewn together to make an animal or person. As one selects different sides of the base to push, the toy dances like a rag doll, even collapsing to its base. As O’Mara moves in front of a mirror, the meanings and emotions behind her gestures, however, appear to be dictated by internal thoughts and memories.
Director/performer Samantha Shay and mentor/performer Barbara Kaufmann appear often together, their relationship unclear; friends, lovers, mother and daughter? Their movements begin with basic arm, hand and head gestures but develop into posing and moving on gorgeous sofas lined with pillows.The four women are filmed at Sky Lagoon, Hotel Holt, The National Gallery of Iceland, and The National Theatre of Iceland. Withing the venues the women perform in rooms rich with paintings, expensive furniture and an all-white staircase with curved archways. The camera continuously alternates between the venues, next to a beautiful lagoon with its volcanic black, rocky shore, and finally underwater where the rippling surface dances with the sunlight reflecting off a circular mirror.This is a visually stunning film choreographed by the camerawork and editing. The four women are wonderful movers and brilliant actors who speak volumes with very subtle and not so illusive gestures and glances. Born in Hafnarfjörður, Iceland, Sóley’s music, Skulls, Circles, Hysteria & Elegia from her album Mother Melancholia, is hauntingly beautiful with one section that transports one back to the sirens of Greek mythology who, with their enchanting music and singing, lured sailors to shipwreck and often death on the rocky coast of their island.
As part of the Under Construction Festival and in partnership with Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch, Mother Melancholia is available May 9-15, 2022 at bit.ly/MotherMelancholia for on-demand viewing via pay what you can. All funds raised will go towards aiding the Ukrainian people.
“We stand in solidarity with the Ukrainian people. We also recognize that this war has received more attention than ongoing wars in non-Western countries. We condemn the war in Ukraine and all wars around the world. We also recognize that in times of conflict, marginalized people suffer disproportionately. Therefore, all proceeds from this stream will not only support the people of Ukraine, but some of the most disadvantaged, and will be split equally among three organizations: Outright International (Supporting the LGBTQ+ Community), Black Foreigners in Ukraine, Support Diabetics in Ukraine.” – On behalf of the Mother Melancholia team: Samantha Shay, Director and Performer; Sóley Stefánsdóttir, Composer; Hallfridur Thora Tryggvadottir, Producer; Barbara Kaufmann, Performer; Chalia La Tour, Performer; Breanna O’Mara, Performer.
I highly recommend seeing Mother Melancholia.
Produced by Hallfridur Thora Tryggvadottir, Director of Photography Victoria Sendra, Edited by Samantha Shay, Editing Consultant Barbara Kaufmann, Colorist Silvia Grav, Costume Designer Angela Trivino, Production Designer Eva Signý Berger, Production Manager Julie Runge, Director of Finance Stephanie Regina, Production Coordinator Júlíana Kristín Liborius, 1st Assistant Camera Ásta Jónína Arnardóttir, Gaffer Erla Margrét Gunnarsdóttir, Sound Engineer Albert Finnbogason, Sound Recording on Set Kristín Hrönn Jónsdóttir, Hair & Make-up Flóra Karítas Buenano, Intimacy Director Colleen Hughes, Cultural Consultant Preston “Coyote” Vargas, Seamstress Alexía Rós Gylfadóttir, Catering Arabella Morgan & Jördís Richter, Set Photography Saga Sigurdardottir & Juliette Rowland, Graphic Design FISK, Film Equipment Victoria Sendra & KUKL, Sound Engineer and Instrumentalist Albert Finnbogason, Drums Jón Óskar Jónsson, Viola and String Arrangements Kristín Þóra Haraldsdóttir, Violin Gudbjorg Hlin Gudmundsdottir, Violin Sigrún Kristbjörg Jónsdóttir, Cello Þórdís Gerður Jónsdóttir, Double Bass Alexandra Kjeld.
To order Samantha Shay film Mother Melancholia, please click HERE.
To learn more about Samantha Shay, please visit her WEBSITE.
Written by Jeff Slayton for LA Dance Chronicle.
Featured image: Barbara Kaufmann (above) and Samantha Shay – Still from Mother Melancholia by Samantha Shay. Director of Photography: Victoria Sendra.
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