Performance Review: WHITESNAKE3000, State Theatre Centre of WA

Autobiographical dance theatre work exploring artistic, cultural and gender identity.
Whitesnake3000. A woman of Asian appearance looks at the camera from side on. She is smiling and wearing white face make-up while sucking on a green tube.

Fans of the movie Shortcomings and Australian-born Chinese comedienne Jenny Tian would have enjoyed WHITESNAKE3000, a coming-of-age and coming-of-art autobiographical narrative dance theatre piece that accurately captured what it is to be an emerging queer, Asian-Australian artist born and bred in Perth at this time.

WHITESNAKE3000 had its second development through Co3 Contemporary Dance’s IN.HOUSE season, a platform that has supported locally esteemed independent artists to develop promising choreographic concepts. In light of what has been achieved by previous luminaries such as Aimee Smith, Ella-Rose Trew, Russell Thorpe, Mark Haslam and Kimberley Parkin, WHITESNAKE3000 did not fall short. 

In the original story, a female snake assumes human form after falling in love with a man, but tragedy ensues when he sees her in her true shape. The eternal tension between cultural and gender conformity and identity was resituated for the contemporary context in WHITESNAKE3000, as the audience was taken on the modern White Snake’s journey of reflection and recollection. 

Within the black-box intimacy of the Rehearsal Studio at State Theatre Centre, onstage and offstage were demarcated by white tape. Dramatic flashes of light revealed a contemporary White Snake. Clothed in a white T-shirt and pants and wearing minimalist make-up, White Snake ran in circles on stage and stopped dramatically in poses that referenced historic portrayals of this mythic figure within Peking opera.

In a metatheatrical twist, however, writer/performer Zendra Giraudo lost little time in breaking the fourth wall. Slipping between character and artist was delineated within the performance not only by the stage markings, but also through the use of different microphones, although future iterations may benefit from a decibel advisory at certain parts of the performance or supplying ear plugs for those with auditory sensitivities. 

Alternating between mythological, autobiographical, artistic and pop culture references, WHITESNAKE3000 used the structure of the Legend of White Snake and its characterisation to platform Giraudo’s blossoming as a human and artist. The work juxtaposed her/their biracial and bisexual identity alongside artistic and existential questioning.

Authentic and vulnerable, Giraudo’s portrayal of her/themself did not shy away from acknowledging the realities and influences that underly Giraudo’s lived experience and artistic perspectives – including a self-effacing honesty in lamenting the inability to speak their mother tongue, a distance from cultural roots engendered by a previous generation migrating to another continent. 

With a retro, indie, magazine collage aesthetic, the visual projections underscored a metatheatrical acknowledgement of the cultural and artistic lineages that influenced both Giraudo the artist and the creation of the work itself.

WHITESNAKE3000 took an egalitarian approach in spotlighting the humanity of each of the creatives who shaped and contributed to the work. These included references to Joe Paradise Lui (director/deviser/sound and lighting designer), Emma Fishwick (movement artist/collaborator), Briannah Davis (movement artist/collaborator) and Andrew Sutherland (poet and theatre-maker/dramaturg). The audience was let into the creative process to discover how collaboration might develop from moments of human connection and the meeting of minds in conversation, a reflection of various current progressive methodologies in theatre-devising.

Within the devised combination of movement with spoken word, WHITESNAKE3000 revealed the artistic and movement lineage that currently influences Perth dance and contemporary performing arts training through the lens of Giraudo’s experiences within it. What was particularly enjoyable was the down-to-earth, endearing portrayal of the relationship of students to their teachers, and what lessons and messages really stick. 

Read: Theatre review: Akaraka, The Substation

WHITESNAKE3000 offered a snapshot of the next generation of independent artists and the creative process in Perth. With the voices of gender-fluid, sexually diverse BIPOC youth and emerging artists clamouring to be heard on our stages, WHITESNAKE3000 found its audience and resonance.

State Theatre Centre of WA
Collaborator/Writer/Performer: Zendra Giraudo
Director/Deviser/Sound and Lighting Designer: Joe Paradise Lui
Collaborator/Movement Artist: Emma Fishwick
Collaborator/Movement Artist: Briannah Davis
Collaborator/Poet: Andrew Sutherland

WHITESNAKE3000 was performed from 20-24 March 2024 in Co3’s fourth IN.HOUSE season.

Xin Hui Ong is a director-choreographer, born in Singapore, based in Boorloo. She has a strong interest in the role of the arts in health and community.