Visions of education in ‘Everse’

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“Everse”  is an engaging collection of performance art pieces drawing attention to blind spots within the education system.

The audience’s journey begins in an entrance hall at Victoria Primary School. The walls are lined with yellowing photographs commemorating past milestones for the all-girls boarding school, dating back to the early 20th century.

As if taking her cue from the pictures on the walls, Chiro Nott appears, dressed as a 1920s schoolmistress. “Come along, come along! Everybody into the courtyard!” Her reprimanding demeanour echoing through the school’s austere red brick corridors conjures an eerie reminder of the conventional schooling system’s rigid, repressive roots.

Ordered into two neat lines (“Girls over here! Boys over there! Single file, everybody!”), the audience obediently follows Nott into a primary school classroom, where they are given a lesson in phonetics. Slowly pronouncing the magnetic letters Nott arranges onto a blackboard, the audience is presented with words to be absorbed and not merely sounded out.

Chiro Nott gives her audience a phonetics lesson in "Everse".  Photo: Michelle Avenant
Chiro Nott gives her audience a phonetics lesson in “Everse”. This classroom scene was composed by Simone Heymans.
Photo: Michelle Avenant
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“When they are presented with evidence that cannot be accepted, it would create a feeling that is extremely uncomfortable, called cognitive dissonance.” Simone Heymans’ film component of “Everse” plays with the difference between phonetics and English spelling and draws on Franz Fanon in pointing out cognitive dissonance in the mainstream education system.
Photo: Michelle Avenant

When the lesson is over, the audience is herded to the edges of the school’s swimming pool, in which float a collection of unexplained white shapes. After several long moments, the freezing silence is broken by a splash. Ivy Kulundu-Gotz has dived into the water. One by one, the shapes are illuminated to reveal a white crib and a collection of white baubles which look like glowing jellyfish. For 20 minutes, Kulundu-Gotz laboriously swims, attempting to herd the baubles into the crib, but to no avail. They keep floating away.

Ivy Kulundu-Gotz dives into Victoria Primary School's freezing swimming pool in "Everse".  Photo: Michelle Avenant
Ivy Kulundu-Gotz dives into Victoria Primary School’s freezing swimming pool in “Everse”.
Photo: Michelle Avenant
Despite her efforts, the white baubles Ivy Kulundu-Gotz tries to herd into the crib keep floating away.  Photo: Michelle Avenant
Despite her efforts, the white baubles Ivy Kulundu-Gotz tries to herd into the crib keep floating away. Kulundu-Gotz’s performance is about the joys and struggles of motherhood, she says.
Photo: Michelle Avenant

The audience’s murmurs are interrupted when Nott sternly shepherds them to the balcony above the school’s tennis courts. On the courts are five young women in white tennis kits, running repetitively up and down to the familiar rhythm of the “beep test”, a fitness test used in physical education. A faceless red figure watches them from a high chair.

Five young women complete a beep test in Joseph Coetzee's performance in "Everse". The performance critiques conventional systems of physical education.  Photo: Michelle Avenant
Five young women complete a beep test in Joseph Coetzee’s performance in “Everse”. The performance critiques conventional systems of physical education.
Photo: Michelle Avenant
One by one, the young women retire from the laborious fitness test in Joseph Coetzee's piece in "Everse".  Photo: Michelle Avenant
One by one, the young women retire from the laborious fitness test in Joseph Coetzee’s piece in “Everse”.
Photo: Michelle Avenant

After the young women have retired, one by one, to a bench at the edge of the courts, the audience is granted “break time” before being dismissed. “I’ll see you again bright and early tomorrow morning!” chirps Nott.

– Michelle Avenant

See also A lesson on learning

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