Sleepwalk Collective’s final instalment in an ‘accidental trilogy’ is obnoxious and charming all at the same time. Idgie Beau reviews Kourtney Kardashian:

It is unlikely that opera is something one would readily associate with the Kardashian family. It is equally unlikely that regular opera-going audiences will have much to do with them either. What is probable, however, that almost everyone – no matter how out of touch with popular culture they are – will have at least heard of the Kardashians.

It’s unavoidable.

The Kardashian/Jenner family are the standard bearers for the 21st century brand of ‘it-girls’, where they are famous for having every detail of their luxurious lives on display: their intimate moments; their family feuds; the reunions; the products they use; the way they raise their kids.

The drama of it all. Every intricate, mundane, detail is captured, packaged, branded and sold. It’s devoured by a general public, hungry for their particular flavour of heightened reality, served to us soap-opera style in bitesized, melodramatic chunks.

iara Solano Arana

Some may consider it a moronic waste of time to obsess over celebrity culture. But when Kardashians are presenting themselves more like fictional characters than real humans, it doesn’t feel dissimilar from the way one might obsess over the characters from any great work of fiction. The difference is the Kardashian plot takes place in real-time.

This is what is at the core of Sleepwalk Collective’s Kourtney Kardashian. An “opera of sorts,” this piece is the final instalment in an “accidental” trilogy exploring selfhood in the technological age. The work questions where the line between reality and fiction blurs when technology enables everyone to construct, manipulate and perfect their perceivable existence.

To unpack what Kourtney Kardashian is about is not an easy task. One one hand, it explores how the grandiose form of opera is not as unrealistic as may appear. After all someone, somewhere in the world, just burst into song. People sing all the time, and its only function is to entertain, pass the time, or express ourselves. One could consider opera to do the same.

Kourtney Kardashian Battersea Arts Centre

iara Solano Arana

The piece is also about spectatorship, commodification, and the spatial presence of the body. iara Solano Arana and Nhung Dang give a tantalising performance and teasingly chastise the audience for being complicit in the materialism of our world. Dressed in gold emergency blankets shaped into decadent evening wear, Arana and Dang deliver softly spoken monologues into powerful microphones that ensure every crackle of their insulating dresses are efficiently and purposefully heard. They are deliberately obnoxious, yet have ensured that everything about their performance is pared down. Their movements are repetitive, like a looping Boomerang photo, yet graceful and haughty. The stripped back quality of their performance is in stark contrast to the content of the piece, ensuring the audience question everything they are witnessing.

Kourtney Kardashian Battersea Arts Centre

iara Solano Arana & Nhung Dang

Kourtney Kardashian is about self-reflection and self-awareness. Text detailing a kind of inner monologue from composer and co-creator Sammy Metcalfe is projected, through a constantly oppressive haze, onto the back of the performance space. Metcalfe’s text explains that the dream-like quality of the production represents an attempt to capture a memory, to recreate the feeling of an experience. Specifically, he wants to revisit watching his parents perform in the Marriage of Figaro as a child.

The relentless synthesised score evokes the compositions of Philip Glass from the film Koyaanisqatsi: Life out of Balance (1982). It is this in combination with Metcalfe’s text that the construct of self is questioned. His omnipotent control over the live performance allows for the idea of manufactured realities to manifest.

Kourtney Kardashian in no way resembles an opera, as it may be classically understood. It barely resembles what most people would recognise as theatre. But it is, somehow, both and neither at the same time. It is an opera in its ostentatiousness, despite being performed in a black-box with few props. It is theatre in that it is a performance of a narrative, without having a discernible plot.

Sleepwalk Collective have created a compelling piece of live art that questions the function and mechanics of spectatorship and performance, while simultaneously using them to tease and taunt the captive audience. Kourtney Kardashian exposes how everything we hold in esteem – from celebrities to high-art – exists in a social construct. It questions why we place value in things that glitter, simply because they do. It is not an easy pill to swallow and at times is more confusing and repetitive than feels necessary. However, this final instalment in the Kardashian Trilogy is an absorbing piece of experimental performance.

★★★☆☆

Kourtney Kardashian played at Battersea Arts Centre until 2 March 2019. For more information, please visit the venue website.