UNFATHOMABLE: PROBING HOW TO LIVE WITH HER ANCESTORS - A DEEP DIVE IN.
By Tammy Ballantyne
We are drawn continually into this tender solo work by Alex Halligey’s expressive fingers and hands – close-ups of her nails; her skin; the tiny, feather-like hairs on her wrists; the sprinkling of freckles. Her hands and fingers lure us into a water-filled sensory experience, an investigation into how to navigate a grief journey, the deeply-felt loss of her father whilst she was still a student.
Unfathomable on film has lived its own journey over almost four years, having had two previous iterations prior to this final birthing. I watched it live at the Wits Theatre in 2019 after it had been awarded a Standard Bank Silver Ovation Award on the National Arts Festival Fringe. This first version employed the collaborative efforts of Halligey (writer/performer/Alexander Technique teacher) with Athena Mazarakis as director and Jenni-Lee Crewe as designer.
I left that performance feeling satisfied, floating weightlessly within the story that unfolded on stage. I wrote then about how ‘“the considered choices made in this solo performance lead us into contemplating the small, fine details – the flimsy paper on which the biographies of her family are sketched; the water floating in the suspended glass tank; the numerous glass jars grouped together; the rolls of plastic; the haunting music, all lead us into the sea with Alex, the watery element where she feels most at home, free and weightless: “I swim to feel, I swim to escape, I swim to be a body in a body of water.”’
The second time I encountered it was on the first vNAf in 2020, when Covid-19 forced a re-think and the live went online. Devised and re-conceptualised for film by Mazarakis and Halligey, with the deft input of Jessica Denyschen on the editing side, the work was spliced and presented in an episodic, non-linear form as a way to capture a particular mood or memory in self-contained fragments. I felt this disrupted the flow and harmony of the piece – I missed the moments of stillness, the gaps for a heartbeat to be heard, but the power of the storytelling was still tangible.
Now in 2022, Unfathomable is presented as a 40-minute film, the beauty of those tiny details are enhanced and realised fully in an immersive contemplation on how to move forward with her ancestors: “How long do you grieve for? How many times do you bury someone?” We sense the ghosts in the water; hear the secrets being whispered into the glass; feel her breath from her upside-down mouth as she blows bubbles to the surface; marvel at her halo of hair back-lit by orange light; and are entranced by those hands tracing her history on paper, diving into jars, gently moulding her father’s body out of a roll of crunchy plastic, trying to make him full-bodied.
Halligey’s voice drives the stories of her remembering, sometimes played as a voice-over, an integral part of the rich tapestry of sound and music which accompanies the images. The theatricality of the work retains its immediacy on the screen. It is the intimate nature of the performance and the shared experience of loss and grief which pulls us into a deeply personal ritual. For many of us who are working through our own recent post-Covid losses and heartache, the film offers gentle solace in a time of huge and disquieting disruption and uncertainty.
Unfathomable has had screenings at The Bioscope and can be viewed online until July 30 via popartcentre.co.za for R50 per view.
Unfathomable forms part of Halligey’s post-doctoral research as fellow at the Johannesburg Institute for Advanced Study (JIAS), University of Johannesburg and funded by the National Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences (NIHSS).
Directed by Athena Mazarakis
Designed by Jenni-Lee Crewe
Videography and Editing by Nikki Pilkington
Lighting by Benjamin Muir-Mills
Sound by Zain Vally
Original Composition by Daniel de Wet
Dance Quarterly is a collection of writing from various industry journalists and academics across the country. This online publication is edited and curated by Tammy Ballantyne and Jessica Denyschen. To submit your writing for consideration please email: firstname.lastname@example.org