Find Your Eyes- Benji Reid
15 Jul 2023
Find Your Eyes is a remarkable production that delves deep into the life and artistry of Benji Reid. When people ask how he flies, Benji’s response is not about the mechanics of flight, but rather the why behind it. This question sets the tone for Find Your Eyes, a captivating exploration of self-expression and personal journey.
The show originates from Benji Reid’s desire to invite the audience into his creative process, giving them a glimpse behind the curtain as he produces live photography that delves into vulnerability, tragedy, and triumph. Despite sitting in the Manchester Academy, the audience is transported to Benji’s home studio, where they bear witness to the creation of striking and surreal images. In real-time, three dancers contort their bodies, bending and flexing before the camera. Each shot is projected onto screens surrounding the stage, swiftly replaced by the next, providing a dynamic visual experience.
The images that flash before us may not find their place in a conventional photographer’s portfolio, but that is precisely the point. Find Your Eyes is a celebration of imperfection and evolution. The show interweaves pre-recorded commentary and vivid anecdotes from Reid’s life, inviting the audience to embrace the challenging, messy, and complex aspects of existence. Through his camera lens, Reid examines pivotal moments of his life, encompassing mental health struggles, his experiences as a black man in Britain, and intricate family dynamics. By sharing his perspective, he invites the audience to see the world through his eyes.
The three performers, Slate Hemedi, Salomé Pressac, and Yvonne Smink, act as conduits for Reid’s artistic vision and mesmerize the audience with their own captivating performances. Whether it is Hemedi gliding through the air in Afro-futuristic imagery propelled by fans, Smink’s awe-inspiring pole feats, or Pressac’s raw portrayals of loss, conflict, and grief through a blend of choreography and theater, their impact is profound.
The exchange between audience and creator adds a unique element to the show, fostering a sense of solidarity and shared experience. It creates a feeling that everyone in the room is fully behind Reid, supporting him in this deeply personal and raw performance.
"I think perfection is ugly. Somewhere in the things humans make, I want to see scars, failure, disorder, distortion." Yohji Yamamoto
On one of the screens, a quote from Japanese fashion designer Yohji Yamamoto appears: “I think perfection is ugly. Somewhere in the things humans make, I want to see scars, failure, disorder, distortion.” This quote encapsulates the essence of what Find Your Eyes represents. It captures the light and shadows of human existence while honing in on Reid’s own experiences of mental health, fatherhood, and self-actualization. This insightful journey into one man’s creative process becomes an ode to reflection, evolution, and imperfection. It offers a unique opportunity to view the world through someone else’s eyes and, ultimately, to learn, feel, and truly see.
Find Your Eyes takes its name from a quote by American photographer Alec Soth. The show, as the title suggests, is about seeing and perceiving differently. It is an invitation to imagine and discover alternative ways of framing the world, while also providing a means to cope with its challenges and complexities. On stage, we witness Reid photographing three extraordinary dancers, each with their unique talents and backgrounds. Slate Hemedi, also known as Crazy, is the founder of Alliance Crew, while Yvonne Smink is a pole dance champion, and Salomé Pressac collaborates with Studio Wayne McGregor. Through Reid’s lens, their physical abilities and emotions are shaped and transformed. The carefully crafted soundtrack, curated by dramaturg Keisha Thompson, weaves a fragmented narrative of Reid’s life, his struggles with mental health, and his perception of the world as a conflict zone for black individuals.
Accompanied by a varied and dense musical score, the performance is haunted by images of depression and despair. Yet, amidst these harsh emotions, Reid presents photographs that embody both brutal honesty and extraordinary beauty. One sequence of portraits, featuring Hemedi and Pressac, swiftly shifts from playful joy to resistance, anger, and sorrow, choreographed by Reid to reflect their changing moods. Each pose is meticulously set, creating an almost religious atmosphere during this ritual. Ti Green’s clever set design further enhances the experience, with every image displayed as a triptych, the live action in the center, and the photographs on either side. The studio assistants’ precise movements, visible to the audience, contribute to the overall sense of wonder and enchantment.
As the show progresses through three acts and 90 minutes, the staged scenes become increasingly elaborate. The dancers don fantastical and futuristic costumes, transforming their shapes and forms. In one extraordinary sequence, Yvonne Smink becomes a human kite, effortlessly maintaining her position while a wind machine blows silk around her, captivating the audience with her breathtaking display of skill and control.
Lazerian, also known as Liam Hopkins, made invaluable contributions to the theatrical show through his expertise in 3D sculptural design. His creative input and craftsmanship brought a unique dimension to the production, with standout pieces including the real-life deus ex machina and the MF Doom metal costume. These one-of-a-kind creations enhanced the storyline and evoked powerful emotions, amplifying the impact of the show. Lazerian’s collaboration with Benji Reid resulted in visually striking and emotionally resonant pieces that perfectly complemented Reid’s vision, enriching the overall experience for the audience.
Finally, Reid introduces a true deus ex machina moment when Salomé Pressac, a dancer gifted with the ability to communicate deep sadness, lies on a lightbox, racked with pain. We hear the story of his mother, struck down by a stroke, desperately tapping out messages to the gods, pleading for salvation. Suddenly, a god appears, and she is resurrected before our eyes. The trick is revealed, yet it retains the power of a miracle. This moment encapsulates the essence of the entire show, as Reid transforms his vulnerabilities into art. The metamorphosis is overwhelmingly moving, leaving the audience profoundly touched by the transformative power of artistic expression.
Find Your Eyes is a testament to Benji Reid’s creative vision and personal journey. Through his unique blend of live photography, storytelling, and dance, he guides us on a profound exploration of the human experience. It is a celebration of imperfections, an ode to reflection and growth, and an opportunity to witness the world through someone else’s eyes. In a world filled with challenges and complexities, Find Your Eyes offers a poignant reminder that art has the ability to transmute vulnerabilities into moments of beauty and inspiration.