for Bromius

“For me, this (Liz Peterson’s) scene is a great example of a director practicing Nietzsches' art of slow reading, of working their way downward into the depths of a text and them­selves, step by step, until both meet in that spectral place which the ancient Greeks called phantasia and Arab thinkers and theologians further refined into the concept of alam al-mithal. A region of the mind that Henry Corbin goes onto translate as the imaginal. Here in this private sensorium, the very abstract concept of Dionysus begins to take concrete shape. A god comes into view. It is a vision of a figure that is half creature, half celestial being. When we put these two antithetical entities together, they create something completely Other. It emerges from the depths of the imaginal and makes itself known.”
                                                                           -Brian Kulick, How Greek Tragedy Works

for Performance About A Woman
“Peterson at times embodies concepts rather than roles, at one point writhing between upright and supine positions. As might be deduced from the title of the performance, the play describes a struggle with identity – one that appears to be as yet  unresolved. The question of the individual’s right to determine meaning is directly posed by Peterson to the audience.”
                                                                                                     -TN2 Magazine

“A charismatic performer who can shuttle between these forms with ease (...) bizarre, powerful and thought-provoking.
                                                                                                     -Now Magazine

for Express Yourself
“casual, fun yet cerebral experiment in media and performance (...) Peterson weaves together autobiography, dance, comedy and singing (her singalong to The Phantom Of The Opera is hilarious) into a deeply moving personal collage”

                                                                                                    -Now Magazine

“taut, coherent, entertaining and well-crafted performance.”



MODA Critical Review, Spring 2023
Full text below

Deep drafts[1]: rehearsing a performance about what lives beneath the surface
by Liz Peterson

Vertical Sound
The best way to describe what an iceberg sounds like is vertical.  It resonates with grinding tectonic hums and high-frequency tweets. At one extremity it produces tones like a 1970s synthesizer, while at another it echoes like the turning of a vice. It’s hard to imagine where the sound even comes from. It doesn’t sound natural. The compression and collapse of enormous bodies of ice has an epic, industrial quality to it, as though it serves some monumental purpose and we’re the sacrificial listeners.  

Below the surface of the water, a large hidden mass, like the draft of a spectral ship, carries countless life forms; some dormant, some gurgling gently. During its’ journey south, sediment is released with a hush onto the ocean floor, leaving a trail of enriched sea life, and a choir of ecosystems follows as it is pulled along by the current. 

Rehearsal Day 1
I arrive at the studio, and I prepare the space. I am planning to speak about the research I’ve done, but I don’t want to overload the performers. It’s the first day and they will already be taking in a lot of information.

People trickle in; I put faces to names. As they introduce themselves, I hear from several people that they were drawn to this project because they are concerned about climatic changes. I never said the project was about climate change. It strikes me that icebergs are evolving as a symbol. Once feared as unknowable natural disasters that could sink ships, now they’re icons of the environmental collapse caused by humans. But I don’t pursue this out loud. Instead, I talk about the sonic frequencies of icebergs which are either very high or very low. They produce no intermediate frequencies, in other words, the frequencies of the human voice.

So, the question we begin with is, how do we sing like an iceberg?

Scene 1
An iceberg made of paper is held up by a small crowd of people. They hold it high above their heads, hands in the air, trying to stay in contact. Lights shift around the structure, morphing its shape. Time is passing and the day turns from night back to day. The audience are an island and the singers surround them.

ENSEMBLE (singing)
Adrift, adrift, adrift  (C#4, G#3, E3)
broken off and afloat,
800 meters per hour,
layers of orbital force soften
and I trail brackish water.
Adrift, adrift, adrift (C#4, A#3, F3)
deposits of dropstone and tillite sink
to bed on the ocean floor

Life that will migrate into foreign sediment
Prepares to change form
Adrift, adrift, adrift (c#4, A#3, F3)

ANGELA: (spoken)
Her draft is an ancient underwater city,
a coarse matrix of caves and crevasses.
The current drags her south and weight divided by density,
divided by length, divided by width, multiplied by three,
rises up against the shore.

Deep draft
The first colonizers to make the journey across the North Atlantic were the Portuguese and the French. It wasn’t until the 1570s that the English developed the technology to navigate beyond their local waters. They were gradually constructing their national identity as imperialists, and building deep draft vessels were essential to the expansion of empire.

Just like their Portuguese and French counterparts, the English were looking to the Northwest Passage, a sea route in the Arctic Ocean through an archipelago that was already inhabited by Dorset and Inuit communities. Connecting the Pacific and Atlantic oceans meant a shorter journey to Asia and, with the incorporation of the East India Company (1600), a more efficient extraction of Indian resources.

Many Europeans famously attempted to traverse the passage without success. The unpredictability of the weather made it impossible to navigate. The ice flow was a morphing shield, suddenly looming out of the fog, of depths unknown, dangerous, and undetected by pre-sonar technology. It froze expeditions in their tracks.

Rehearsal Day 7
Performance is the compression of time. I will often give the note, do it slower, because I want to observe the compression. Every moment contains within it the moment that came before.

I immigrated to Newfoundland with my Indian father and my English mother when I was three years old. My dad was a marine engineer: he fixed diesel engines on ships. He had trained in the 1960s with the Indian Merchant Navy, which was, at the time, a newly nationalised institution that galvanized India’s freedom to trade its own goods. This freedom was only gained in 1947 after more than 400 years of British colonisation.

We moved to Newfoundland in the 1980s because my dad wanted to break out on his own. His plan was to team up with a naval architect to build and maintain vessels for local fisheries. There weren’t a lot of Indians in St. John’s at the time, but my dad would seek them out, building a network of found family. I grew up as a “Newfie”, while also understanding that my family weren’t Newfoundlanders. And as a child, the sight of icebergs in June simply meant the start of the long summer ahead.

By the time we moved there, technological advances in fishing had already precipitated a steady decline in sea life. Unlike indigenous and local fishing methods, industrial trawlers dragged the ocean floor for catch. Ultimately, the long-term impact on the cod population was catastrophic. Government studies had grossly over-estimated the cod stock and by 1992 the fishing industry in Newfoundland collapsed entirely. It was the largest industrial closure in Canadian history. It changed the cultural and socio-economic life on the island and triggered an outward migration. Today, many Newfoundlanders work on the tar sands in Alberta, extracting oil.

Scene 3
The engine room of a fishing vessel. Three women in oil covered overalls observe a large running diesel engine, the sound is deafening. STEPHANIE wears noise cancelling earphones and is taking notes. RUTVA photographs the engine. STORM stands by the controls. RUTVA motions to gear down. The tone of the engine shifts lower, slower. Suddenly, the engine cuts out. The vessel lurches and they are thrown to the floor.

Rehearsal Day 4
Is the iceberg a she? Asks Bee, one of the performers.

We’ve been running the opening sequence, where the ensemble enter singing, carrying a five-foot iceberg made of paper, wire, and plexiglass. I’m beginning to think the object itself is a mistake. The ensemble is supposed to be the iceberg anyway, so why do we need this model?

I give the best answer I can think of.

The identity of the iceberg is different for each performer.

I try to elaborate:

I think the iceberg carries within it the chaos of life: it is powerful, destructive, creative and vulnerable all at once. You should each have your own interpretation of how to perform that.

I’m certain that I’ve confused them, so we go back to the beginning.

I focus on a moment when they will all turn to look at the audience on cue. I remind them that an iceberg is mutable and constantly changing, just like our ensemble. They sing, adrift, adrift, adrift. We continue like this: I will say something to the group, someone responds, and it becomes a layer in the understanding of what we’re doing. Then we repeat the action, and we see how it changes. I adjust what I say, and we do it again. Gradually the layers build up into a shared knowledge and the practice of the ensemble. Eventually, our repetitions are tidal, and we become so porous, that our gestures dissolve in motion. Our voices escape into echo, and we drift in waters that were once unknown.

[1] A boat's draft is simply the distance between the waterline and the deepest point of the boat. “A shallow draft is best to chart unknown waters.