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EILEEN: Art that hurts (in a good way) the European premiere from Sarah Butler

by Angela Fegers June 5th, 2024

I’ve gone to one other performance in post covid times where I left with the feeling, ‘Wow, I want to follow this person’s work’. I will diverge from revealing the other choreographer’s name to stay focused on giving my voice to Sarah Butler and her European premiere, EILEEN (formerly titled HORSES), which took place at Jergon Studio on May 17th, 2024 in Berlin. 

Sculptor, film artist, dancer, singer, songwriter, US American Sarah Butler, is new to Berlin but is already, notably, making a mark on the performance scene here. Butler gifted Berlin with art that hurts (in a good way) on a damp and sunny Friday evening. I left the venue with a soft smile  and sparkling eyes that veered to the sky as I wondered what impossible tasks I have placed in my own way, echoing one of Butler’s themes for the evening. An eerie and skilfully crafted balance of eloquence, introvertedness and captivation, with consistent themes of rhythmical patterns through movement and voice, Butler shared a sincere experience with the audience in a quiet and intimate gallery off the beaten path, in Kreuzberg. 

A video projects on one wall in a square shaped room. The audience is glued to all exterior sides of the space leaving only a central area bare for Butler to later perform in. The multimedia artist guided us on a journey as soon as we arrived in the gallery. We nestled on the ground touching neighbouring shoulders with our own as we awaited for something to ‘begin’. But what was to begin had already begun. The projected video featured Butler in another room parallel to the one we were occupying, the artistic decision immediately forced the audience to make a choice between watching the video, or eagerly peeking into the adjacent room in hopes of catching a glimpse of the performer. Butler slowly rotated through the neighbouring room unravelling material which encased her body, similar to parchment paper. The slow rotation was reminiscent of the solar system steadily circling the sun, or a butterfly as they eclose out of their cocoon into a new world. A sculpture imitating a bird’s nest covers Butler’s entire face, narrowing in around the neck, hundreds of individual branches weaved in synchronicity to create a sturdy nest or ‘home’ over her head. Themes of nature continued throughout the work. A sculptural mock up of a  forest flanked Butler while disentangling the textiles. As the performer arrived at the small hallway which connected the room we were sitting in and the adjacent room that was abandoned - she removed the remaining encompassing sculpture around her head.

Sarah enters the room, preparing us for what feels like an Act 2. The audience, captivated by the intimate performance, notices every detail of movement in Butler’s body myself included. A true multi-disciplinary artist,  it’s rare to see so much skill and talent in one space directed and performed by one person. Butler effortlessly weaved various artistic mediums in EILEEN, presenting her skilled dance technique and passion in parallel to an original music score, sung live- with a looping system included, sculptural work and thoughtful dramaturgy. ‘Where did this artist come from?’ The dedication to the different forms of disciplines and investigation of the creative work was obvious, reflective and admirable. Act 2 presented a well crafted choreographic arch, movement and vocal phrases were repeated with different intentions, facings and rhythms. Live vocal loops that gave me Imogen heap vibes circa 2008, supported the dance phrases effortlessly, moments of silence were present as well. 

EILEEN showed us Sarah Butler. I felt like I was reading a diary, or witnessing a journal entry in an ‘artistic’ form- one that was expertly written, perhaps even erased and drafted over again until finding a mellifluous balance to present the power of pain and pleasure throughout transformative periods. If you missed this show, you do not want to miss the next one. The self produced evening drew an audience for two sold out shows- as Butler presented a multi-layered piece with nuances of self evolution and development.

Follow Sarah Butler's work here.

Photos by Shawn Fitzgerald Ahern

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