Stefanie Elrick is a performance artist and part of the UK-based troupe of ‘shape-shifters and dream-catchers,’ Ultra Violet Violence. They evolved from stirring up crowds at various UK festivals, dance club nights or anywhere with an open stage wearing whimsical costumes to enchanting audiences across the globe with the pioneering space-rock band Hawkwind. The Ultra Violets are not just dancers; they are the unique and lively outcome of combining a vibrant imagination with performance.
As a child, whenever asked about what I intended to be when I grew up, I always smugly replied “a marine biologist.” More than the fact that I loved swimming and was obsessed with holding my breath underwater, I knew this would make the adults nod approvingly and think, “My, what an ambitious little child you are!” As soon as I realised how much actual science was involved and how little ‘mermaidean reef lounging’ was, I swiftly lost interest. If I’d been gifted with the power of foresight and peered into my future I would have cheerfully replied, “I’m going to be a performer with a psychedelic space-rock band and spend most of my time swathed in lycra gimp-suits on stilts, re-enacting the birth of the cosmos and the destruction of mankind.” They probably would have patted me on the head with a perplexed, “of course you are darling.” But such is my life.
It’s interesting that even though my career has been carved primarily through dance, I would never describe myself as a dancer. This is for one main reason; I’ve never trained in any specific dance discipline. I was kicked (or shuffled quietly) out of ballet lessons for being “like a baby elephant” and ushered into the arena of Disco Dancing at the age of 7. This manic land where tiny girls do ferocious battle like bejewelled contortionist gladiators pumped full of Lucozade and E-numbers, left me traumatised. After my first glitter-smeared competition I sobbed all the way home declaring that, that was the end of it. From then up until puberty, dancing took place in the safety of my front room to ‘Thriller’ and ‘Spirit in the Sky’ or head-banging in the drama studio at lunch times to RATM and Korn. I was never taught to dance by anyone else. I improvised and threw myself into the unknown with everything I had at full throttle. I let my clumsy baby elephant feet stomp, schlomp and shimmy however they damn well pleased.
During my teenage years I discovered underground raves in Leeds and the lip-biting, mind-blending joys of techno. I couldn’t believe it the first time I stepped inside one of those sweat drenched blissful dives, everybody stomped there. Stamping, pounding, thrashing ecstatic on a whole new level and no one gave a fuck what they looked like or how elegant their lines where there. They were inside the music, twisting and winding invisible cats’ cradles in the air with eyes closed, convulsing and whirling, drenching everyone around with victorious sweat. These people partied ‘til the next afternoon. They took this shit seriously. This was where I first learnt to let go.
After moving to Manchester I found my spiritual home at a club night called ‘Monster Monster.’ A self-proclaimed indoor festival full of freaks, carnies, cavorters and beautiful misfits, playing psycho-hop-rock-break-pop and encouraging everyone to externalise their wildest fantasies through communal cosplay. These people were also dance floor fanatics; no posing, no pouting, no space-hogging. If you were there, you were there to dance ‘til your feet bled, left breathless, bewildered and at one with the dervish. The most memorable Monster reveller for me was a mystery Irish girl who came dressed as Naan bread. She got too drunk too quickly and had to be taken back to my house and put to bed because no one claimed her and she couldn’t speak. She slept in her giant cardboard costume and woke up disorientated and freaking out; not knowing we’d saved her from a night on the streets. She thought we were weirdoes who lured her back for some nefarious Naan bread sandwiches. But I digress…
I first had the urge at Monster to create some surreal theatrical spectacles and begged the promoters to let me get a troupe together to perform. We were never to be burlesque dancers or scantily clad girlies grinding against poles or each other for attention. We were to be badass bass tamers to make an audience wonder what the hell was going on and encourage them all to push energy levels a notch higher. Our first piece was to Prodigy’s ‘Spitfire,’ we smudged ourselves with gore and charcoal and hung a “Brains for Booty” sign behind us, hissing and spitting our way through our routine. The rest, as they say is history.
Since then we’ve choreographed performances as Voodoo Swamp Priestesses with decaying teeth, Sexy Salmons, Mechanical Militia, Tibetan Goddesses, Gothic Seahorses, 10ft Wizards, Spider Deities, Puppets, Gorillas, Goblins and Baroque Puppets to list a very limited few. In the past six years I’ve toured the globe and shared the stage with some truly amazing performers creating stage shows and choreography for a vast spectrum of tastes and sensibilities. It’s always been about immersion and interaction. The performance that dance can emphasise and enhance and the different ways to hijack the audience’s enthusiasm and unleash a cyclone of energy into a crowd.
I bear no grudges towards anyone using sexuality in performance; it’s the easy route to success and the perfect distraction to real life, but there has be something extra if you’re really going to reach people to make them shed their self-consciousness, turn on and join in. There are infinitely more interesting ways to channel a sense of symbiotic flow between performer and crowd than the standard knee-jerk biological twang. As it stands, I’m still learning how to surf these ripples and refine my art.
Performance, whether it be art, dance, theatre or all of them merged should always break conventions if it’s really going to reach people and stimulate an effective response. I believe any performance should be, a ‘Spectacle of Affirmation’ for whatever idea is most present and potent at the time.
Had I known of how much vitality is created or summoned by simply embodying a creature, mood or event for an audience, then throwing yourself whole heartedly and unguided into giving that creation an essence, a force, a coursing cascading flow of its own, I would never have bothered about trying to impress those adults as a child. I would have simply said “I’m going to be a mirror” and skipped away before they could reply.