revew: Xavier Velastin and Hannah Mook – Me & My Whale
Me & My Whale/
by Xavier Velastin and Hannah Mook/
The ocean makes me think of death and noise. A couple of weekends ago, I went and stayed with a writer friend in my Grandma’s caravan in Wales, about 20 miles inland from Aberystwyth on the coast. On the Friday night we got far more drunk on whiskey than we’d ever expected or planned to and we woke up about 3pm the next day. That evening, he drove us to Aberystwyth and we walked along the beach. It was a windy weekend and even the waves right on the shore were pumped up and rolling fat onto the grey sand. The air is delicious with the smell of salt. Somehow it’s a similar kind of burning to that which I woke up to whiskey-struck, in my throat. But it is a clean and cleansing one.
Xavier Velastin and Hannah Mook both perform. They wear those full-body white jumpsuits that people who dissect bodies wear on the telly. And there’s a kind of empiricism to Me & My Whale. Elaborate apparatus generate deep oceanic rumbles, the softness of spray. We see them at work – the ocean is in fact a metal plate, the submarine waves are Mook, plunging her head into a bowl of water and breathing. And while there is a clarity to the creation of these sounds and soundscapes, they feel exploratory, as if being researched, discovered as we watch.
The ocean makes me think of death and noise. I remember holidays every year of my life until I was about 18. Playing in the sea and accidentally swallowing a mouthful of it. It is strangely syrupy when it gets in your nose and mouth. I would vomit. And then the vomit would be part of the sea now. I always think of the content of the sea, of the amount of dead things and waste in it. Of the amount of live things and food in it. My understanding of human relationships with the sea is exploitation. People take from the sea things that it needs and fill it with things that it doesn’t. The back wall of the set is a huge sheet of thin plastic, which Mook chokes and wraps herself in.
Mook and Velastin are a case for the confidence of performers. There’s a pervading sense in Me & My Whale that there is a plan. A lot of the elements feel disparate – very often the abstract pieces of combined movement and sound art feel like departures from the story. But even typing ‘story’ feels a little cheap. Maybe it’s more useful to think of this show as one which has stories within it, rather than as a single narrative. It makes more sense to think of the thing as various. And the whole is often carried by the conviction that comes off the two performers. Even if at times it doesn’t to us, the order and the action makes total sense to them.
Spectacle has a role in that affect. These aren’t just two performers doing what they feel like for fifty minutes. Sometimes faith in an internal logic is the only thing you have to go on in performance, but that isn’t the case here. The keys to the show are tossed to us in the first few minutes: there’s a woman, there’s a whale, she falls in love with it. And large sections are more than compelling enough to stand on their own. The piece spans moments of abstract, sonically scored movement, and joyful silliness, as Mook asks the whale, ‘want to come back to my place? I’ve got some, krill.’
But as much as they might be confident and likeable, Velastin and Mook are in control of something cruel. They are in control. Love as a one-sided thing, as a human and exploitative thing. Because even if you believe whales are capable of experiencing attraction, intense bonding, devotion, no whale has ever said ‘I love you’. It couldn’t. She may be in love with the whale but the whale is hers, she owns it, she masters it, it has no opportunity to own her back. There’s a part of me that sees ‘love’ in Me & My Whale as an abuse the woman does upon herself, which leaks out into the ocean, onto the bodies of whales and people. Sometimes, people hurt the world for love.
The beach in Aberystwyth is a strange, grey sand. The weekend has been stormy and we find a huge trunk of a tree washed up, with green ivy still clinging to it. The debris on the shore is a strange mix of seaweed and autumn leaves. And plastic, and glass, and bits of crab pots and lengths of rope.
The ocean makes me think of noise and death.