SHOWREEL PREVIEW: Haus of Sequana

Are you ready to escape your normal life? Haus of Sequana, an all-female urban tribe from London's Deptford, are here to inspire and destroy in a whirlwind show that's been stirring up festivals, club nights and art events around the country. Victoria Farley talks to the Haus ahead of their ShowReel performance on October 12th.

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How did the Haus of Sequana come about? Where did the name come from?

The costumes preceded the idea. In early 2011, we were already an extremely close group of girls with a lot of ideas, but we weren’t channelling them into anything. Then, Tuttii Fruittii - always a beacon of boundary-pushing creativity among us - started making these incredible face masks. We wore them at a festival, and found ourselves both very freed and moving naturally into a sort of hypnotic performance that we understood little of at the time. The impact was such that the following year I suggested we turned our virtual tribe into a real performance tribe with the help of these unbelievable costumes Tuttii was making. More and more of our girls responded, more and more costumes were made, and Sequana was spawned.

The name came from the incoherent girly ramblings that I hope aren’t unique to our tribe - in other words, a meaningless moniker that has acquired huge meaning over time.

You are described as an 'urban tribe'. How do you think the use of 'tribe' describes who you are and what you represent?

A tribe is often defined as ‘a social group which exists outside of the state’. We think that’s what modern friendship groups are: people with a closeness that allows them to challenge the world they find themselves in, and through support and solidarity, write their own rules. Living in big cities in a tough time, we all form our own tribes to survive and make sense of what’s going on. This thinking led us to research the behaviours of indigenous tribes around the world. The freedom, closeness and pure, primal sense of being human that these tribes appeared to achieve from their rituals and practices made us aware how much these things are missing from Western society. Haus of Sequana aims to explore them and, in a way, introduce them as a valuable and meditative part of our often oppressive day-to-day. Essentially, our performances are dramatic extensions of the ideas of sisterhood and the urban family.

What inspires the Haus of Sequana, and what influences you most in your performances?

We have three primary influences: tribal traditions (as mentioned above), circus clowns, and the conventions of BDSM. The clown-like elements of our costume and behaviour are inspired by that very clownlike ability to suspend the disbelief of adulthood with the garish silliness of childhood - another thing we reckon is sorely missing from today’s society! Unlocking those primal instincts to dress and act in whichever way one’s imagination conjures is extremely liberating (for our audiences, we hope, as well ourselves!).

The sexualised elements of our costume and performance intend - rather experimentally -  to take ownership of the things that women have to deal with in everyday life within a fun, over the top, empowering context. We aim to get audiences to look at women’s naked bodies without toxic associations; more as beautiful extensions of ourselves that are not more or less beautiful because of how they fit into a scale of good to bad that has been defined for us. And being controlled and manipulated against one’s will – which features in our performances when we are hypnotised by the Queen, ganged up on by the rest of the tribe, or chained together - allows us to explore the darker sides of human sexuality and relationships within a safe and purely artistic environment.

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What is the process behind crafting a performance, and how do you think your costumes come into play when communicating your message to your audiences?

Each of our very different performances come together during our regular tribe meetings. We have a pretty special rapport together which allows us to collaborate equally on ideas and choreography. As such, routines and concepts form as a result of everyone’s input and everyone’s approval and mounting excitement! The costumes are essential in communicating our message to audiences because their initial arresting visual spectacle is the driving force of our performance: they grab and hold spectator interest, within which the performances play out. Though two or three of our (most textile-savvy!) members produce the bulk of our costumes, we have in recent years begun to form very distinct characters for which we all contribute ideas and effort both in terms of costume, body painting and performance.

The masks are especially important - we all regard them as a kind of ‘liberation lubrication’ when it comes to jumping out of our normal selves and plunging into our Sequana characters. The costumes and body paint employ a wild use of colour which always unites us even when the shapes and themes of individual costumes differ - colour is the lifeblood of the Haus!

I've read that your performances aim to demonstrate the possibility of a 'temporary escape' for your audiences - how important do you think it is for audiences to experience this escape,  and what would like someone who watches your show to learn and feel throughout the experience?

The ‘temporary escape’ is the thing that Sequana gives all of us, and what we hope to give audiences in whatever form possible - whether that’s short-lived entertainment or eye-opening inspiration. Our dream is for our performances to inspire someone who is strongly inclined to express themselves in a bare, naked, colourful way (surely everyone?) but feels that they can’t, to just go for it - because it’s important, amazing, and fun in a way usually reserved for childhood

We’d also love to get both women and men to consider women’s bodies from a fresh perspective, with a view to both redefine the meaning of ‘beautiful’ and which ‘boundaries’ one can cross before being considered ‘slutty.’

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What would you like new fans discovering you at BFW to know going into the show?

We’d love anyone seeing us for the first time to approach the performance with an open-minded willingness to both get sucked into whatever level of hypnotism we (hopefully!) achieve, and to imagine themselves joining in (whether that idea is exciting, frightening, or anything else). We’re always open to new members if it’s the former!

Can you give us a small preview of what we can expect to see at the show?

I’m afraid not… top secret!

What's next for the Haus?

We are lucky enough to have a rising level of interest which has led to a number of (currently under wraps!) high-profile magazine photoshoots occurring in recent weeks. We’ll no doubt be popping up at London-based art events through the winter as well as (of course) festivals next summer. There’s also a Springtime Sequana tour of the Netherlands in the pipeline… watch this space!

See Haus of Sequana at ShowReel on Sunday 12th October. Buy tickets for the 6pm show here or 8.30pm here. See the rest of the schedule here.

Victoria Farley

Brighton Fashion Week blogger

Images: HOS - Scott Salt
HOS01 - Andrew Whitton
HOS04 - Bethan Miller
HOS05 - Original photograph Anthony Lawcett, digital composition Morwenna
James
HOS08 - Taxi Cabaret
HOS09 - Anthony Lawcett
HOS10 - Anthony Lawcett