Review: Deer Dancer, Take Me Somewhere Festival
4.0Overall Score

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For five and a half hours I dip in and out of an astonishing durational live stream of Hannah Tuulikki’s Deer Dancer. The stage is a blank, black space with uncertain edges that five performers drift in and out of as they mimic deer behaviour. This mimesis is used to explore gender performance and hetero-masculinities as created in the wilderness, and also to examine the connection between masculinity, hunting and the current ecological climate. I have a fluctuating relationship with this project; I enter into its ‘wilderness world’ in bewilderment and I feel alienated as I watch five women pretend to be male deer. However, the longer I watch this piece, the more entranced and mesmerised I become, the more I am assimilated into its world, and the more I begin to see the beautiful merits of Deer Dancer.

The five performers totally become their deer-men with distinctive and differing personalities. By the end of the piece I can close my eyes and identify who is on stage simply based on their voices, which take the shape of different musical notes and phrases. It is possible to discern five separate, disparate voices which somehow work together and perfectly reflect each deer’s personality.

My favourite personality is the Old Sage, an ethereal, spiritual presence, who was once a “graceful adult male who has left the physical world”. The Old Sage swirls fluidly across the stage like liquid and has a strange power over the other deer. It can calm the aggressive postulating of the Young Buck, and drive the Fool into a frenzy. Furthermore, the Old Sage seems to exist outside of the “machismo” that is present during encounters between the adult males, and channels some kind of ancient energy. In contrast to this, the Monarch, Young Buck and Warrior all exist within tense relationships that regularly seem to be threatening. Both the young males put on a show of their masculinity; constantly moving, poised and ready to go, and the Monarch walks slowly and stiffly, clearly past his prime, as he tries to maintain control. I find it fascinating to watch different encounters between these wildly different deer; no two scenes are the same, and I appreciate the constantly fluctuating group dynamics and interactions.

The idea of gender performance is really brought through by the fact that the beginning and end of the play show the women getting ready and then getting undressed behind the stage. The camera angle sets up this shot to make it seem as though we are looking into a window onto the scene, and the emphasis on the artificiality and fragility of their masculinity as deer is underlined as they literally put on a mask as they chat and get into their deer regalia.

The use of deer and their interactions in the wild turns out to be a perfect tool by which to explore the themes of Deer Dancer. Hierarchies of power, masculinities, how we act and react to other people and situations are reflected in the way the deer interact with one another. The length of this project, spanning almost a whole day, adds to its power. I am acquainted with each character, feel close to them and am totally entranced.

Deer Dancer was streamed on May 22 2021 as part of Take Me Somewhere Festival.  For more information see Take Me Somewhere Festival’s website.