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Girl in Suitcase, Telegraph Hill Festival 2015

5 Apr 2015

Slender fingers slide timorously from a black cocoon. The top of the suitcase that lies flat upon a small bare table begins to lift. Slowly, gracefully and utterly naked, the girl within emerges. She stands, stretches, moves lithely, luxuriously, like a new butterfly unfurling its wings to feel the sun’s warmth for the first time.

She poses, strong, she addresses the people before her; she is one and she is all.


She is Esther Bunting, and I am of the audience for her all-new visionary presentation of ‘Girl in Suitcase‘ at The Telegraph at the Earl of Derby, part of the Telegraph Hill Festival. Like everyone else here, I have paper and pencils – this is performance, presence, art and life drawing combined.


A small: “Ahem”. Esther has company. Ursula says, “I’m supposed to be the model!” “Oh, sorry.” Esther dresses, Ursula undresses, and now it is Ursula standing nude in pose upon the table while Esther has become the callous art teacher. She objectifies her life model with heartless detachment. We draw.


Transformation. Esther is now Mary, mother of Jesus. She decries the systematic erasing of women from our myths, our religions, our history. And again we draw.


Goddesses come forth. Sabine – third of the performance trio – emerges as Isis from beneath gossamer wings. In her Egyptian azure belly-dancer costume she dances to music with measured elegance. Then Esther becomes Artemis, armed with bow and arrow, directed towards the audience for a piercing monologue. She too dances, slow at first, then quickening to a techno blur. And we draw faster.


Transformation. Esther and Ursula are once more nude. They smear silver paint upon each other, then pink, then blue – soon will come the blood. Black paint and brushes are taken. They paint swirls and lines upon their torsos, while Isis offers up a brush to the audience. Several of us make our marks upon the goddess-canvases. Esther and Ursula hug in colours, and we draw.


There is a final transformation: into winter. Sabine, Esther and Ursula become elderly, they recite their roles, the universality of women; the roles we recognise, the roles we forget and roles we never knew we took for granted. They stand in a line and writhe as the goddess Kali, six-armed, empowerment embodied. Music rolls as it has all night, weaving a mood through the soliloquies of Esther and the poems of Ursula.

© Stephanie Flower
© Stephanie Flower

The performance climaxes as Esther, her face bandaged, her body shrouded, returns to sit huddled and meditative in her suitcase womb. The goddess and poetess mourn. It is over, and when next they stand we applaud warmly and loudly. It has been a rich, complex, compelling performance. And we have been engaged…


…but audience engagement hadn’t been restricted to life drawing and a few indulgent paint daubs on the performers’ bodies. During the second half Esther had announced it was now time for the models to draw the artists: who would stand and step forward to pose naked for them? She’d barely uttered the words when I started kicking off my shoes… but then I paused, thinking: “no, I’ve modelled before, this call is for others.”

One woman – an artist I knew from local life drawing – rose from the crowd and began to undress. For a while, despite continuing calls from Esther, it seemed she would be alone. Esther asked, “Where are the men?”. OK! I stood and undressed. Three others followed me and together the five of us linked with arms around shoulders and waists.

As Venus played, we posed; me second from the left. The audience drew us from the front…


…while Sabine and Ursula drew us from behind – myself chalked large…


…and this was supposed to be my night off!

I count myself lucky; to do this thing I enjoy whilst enjoying such a special event. Yet I’m luckier still to be able to count Esther, Sabine and Ursula among my friends. And in the company of friends, with a nice Rioja, life drawing, life modelling, dance, music, poetry, mythology and performance… on this night the world was better.


Girl in Suitcase is unique; intense, immersive, personal, phenomenal. A rare gift.

From → Art

One Comment
  1. Thank you Steve, wonderful to read your descriptive words. Thank you for being part of the performance 🙂

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