Through the Gaze of a Navel is the anti-yoga class you never knew how much you wanted until it’s already kicking you in the metaphysical butt. Gaze is an inward-out journey documenting how to fail to achieve self-actualization, and the material cost it takes to do so. The production is a part of Canada’s Magnetic North Theatre Festival, which strives to offer the very best of Canadian theatre, and within this year’s lineup Through the Gaze of a Navel is a standout. The show is stunning in its morosely comedic content, tackling artist Emelia Symington Fedy’s experiences of anxiety and depression — what she simply calls “the darkness” — with honesty so funny it hurts. Part satire of the commercial spirituality industry, part yoga class, and part one-woman show, Gaze is sure to delight anyone who has ever stepped into a therapeutic studio environment, or scoffed as others have.
Gaze offers two spectator experiences, creating the opportunity for audience members to either watch or participate in Fedy’s yoga class. She is an electric presence, energizing the whole theatre from the moment she enters. While many audience members delighted with the participatory nature of the show will have already self-elected to sit on the yoga mats provided onstage, Fedy’s positivity and instantaneous mockery of her own set-up quickly motivates additional participants. The class consists of a variety of absurd stretches that include everything from the classic downward dog to an elaborate how-to-twerk lesson. Fedy delights in performing the very practice she deconstructs, encouraging her disciples to stretch until they feel like they are on a medieval torture rack, or hold their breath until they recognize the signs of a panic attack coming on. The best member of the class is openly praised so others can aspire to their level of talent, and then all are encouraged to buy “Best in the Class” t-shirts at the end of the show. The tongue-in-cheek meta-reflection yin-yangs between celebration and demolition of the commercial yogi mentality, but it is Fedy’s complete devotion to recreation of the classroom environment that makes Gaze so ridiculously fun.
Familiarity with yoga culture is recommended but not required for walking away from Gaze with abdominals aching from laughter. Fedy takes on the self-help industry at large, at one point revealing an oversized scroll listing the numerous ways she has managed to spend over $60,000.00 on “chasing away the darkness”. Like every twist in Gaze, she sells the moment as hilarious, yet underneath the laughs it bubbles grotesquely. In truth, the clenched gut of the show is not in reaction to an industry capitalizing on psychological suffering, but rather to the void of alternatives for solace. “What do we do if the darkness just won’t go away?” Fedy asks, and she isn’t joking. The power of Gaze is that just being at the show seems to offer an answer, even if Fedy isn’t so audacious as to name it. The collective nervous giggles and relished groans as the class and audience physically engage with their own demons are signs that for a moment the darkness has been made not only bearable, but enjoyable.
Through the Gaze of a Navel
by Kelly Richmond