Superhero Alter Ego: Push Festival 2021 @ HOME

Push is HOME’s annual celebration of the North West’s creative talents. It has taken a new form in 2021 due to the pandemic. The festival is to be run across the whole year, allowing work to be seen both live and digitally. This year will feature six brand new commissions, which explore the world we live in through a range of styles, experiences and perspectives. It is a glistening reminder of the adaptability of artists during trying times. 

I chatted with Holly Rush on her specific commission, ‘Superhero Alter Ego’, a series of four episodes which satirise our social media age through a surreal, escapist, superhero narrative.

Credit: Holly Rush

Holly is a contemporary dance artist from and based in Salford. She trained at Trinity Laban and brought her third year piece ‘My Town, Your Town’ to Manchester, to perform at Antwerp Mansion, “I loved the idea of taking work into spaces that are not built traditionally for conventional theatre. This pushed me to work on different theatre disciplines such as clowning, movement directing, physical theatre and spoken word”

‘Superhero Alter Ego’ is a series of four episodes, set to be released monthly from March. The series skilfully combines physical theatre and different dance practices such as clowning, contemporary dance and Waaking, which enable the two protagonists, Jest and Luci to parody poses from comic books. Holly took inspiration for the commission from ‘The Watchmen’ by Alan Moore. “I think that’s when I started to get hooked on the superhero theme, his storytelling and character development is mind-blowing, and also the way he satirises popular culture. I realised that there is so much you can learn from superheroes, about identity, gender and modernism. You can do a whole essay on these subjects, just from reading comics.”

Credit: Holly Rush

Footage for the series has been filmed in and around Manchester, and growing up here has had significant influence on ‘Superhero Alter Ego’. She tells me “In my research, Superheroes are always borne from modernity and are a response to it, they are the ones who overcome the rapid changes in the 20th-21st century, compared to other protagonist characters in modernist American literature”. She continues “The pace of urban development in Manchester is scary, the new shiny high rise buildings are starting to look like a villain’s lair and I do ponder, is this really the right way to develop a city, I find this so related to the superhero theme.” 

Hollys work is very much open to interpretation, and is not specifically about portraying a message. Rather, it is about the enjoyment of storytelling in a new form. It cleverly and ironically uses social media to make a metaphorical comment, which is the underlying theme of the story. 

Credit: Holly Rush

She states “I think being locked in, we are all spending more time on our phones, there are so many digital wars going on, are they even real? And then the algorithm, the way it uses our data and prompts people to vote in specific ways, I question whether our free will is being taken away by massive corporations like Facebook and social media is zapping us of our uniqueness”. This line struck me, having just watched the new Adam Curtis documentary series ‘I can’t get you out of my head’, which dissects the history of the modern world. Towards the end of the series, he states “algorithms are the colonisation of the human mind”, paralleling the thought behind ‘Superhero Alter Ego’. The two protagonists Luci and Jest are portrayed as flamboyant characters, trying to escape being sapped of individuality by  the villain, “The Gor” (short for algorithm) . An Instagram filter has been created of “The Gor” by Nicholas Delap, and audience members are encouraged to use the filter, to be featured in the next episode. Very ironic and poignant. 

The series is set to be entirely unique and transportive. Take a sneak peak here.

 A ticket for ‘Superhero Alter Ego’ includes access to an immersive web page featuring digital graphics, rehearsal footage and poetry which helps explain the abstract story.