A SpeakEasy is an informal audience discussion facilitated by a Walker Art Center tour guide and a local performer or choreographer. Today’s edition highlights themes shared during a conversation on Saturday, January 26, about (M)imosa/Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at the Judson Church, by Cécilia Bengolea, François Chaignaud, Marlene Monteiro Freitas, and Trajal Harrell. This SpeakEasy was led by tour guide Skye Stauffer and local arts and culture guru from Salon Saloon, Andy Sturdevant.
Inspired by the 1990 documentary Paris is Burning, which follows the vogue dance scene in Harlem in the 1980s, (M)imosa investigates the hypothetical question of what contemporary dance would look like today if vogue had the same influence as the Judson Dance Theater on the evolution of the art form. Utilizing elements of time, space, persona, the four artists address the question of “what is real” while trying to convince the audience that each of them is “the real Mimosa.” The element of “real” is the dominant theme, explored through song, dance, story-telling, and costuming, challenging audiences perception of gender, sexuality, and what it means to be comfortable in your own skin. After the show, audience members gathered in the Balcony Bar to discuss what they saw. Here are some key topics:
The house never went dark, except during a few sections. Performers were in audience, talking to people, to each other, drinking tea, eating. The audience quieted when Freitas took the stage, topless. Even as she began dancing, the lights stayed up and the other performers remained on the sides or in the audience, giving the performance a rehearsal quality, making the viewers aware that they were watching a very intimate scene of artistic and personal exploration. As the audience watched the performance, the performers watched each other, moving seamlessly between being viewers and performers. As an act was happening on stage, there was often something just as captivating happening in the audience, forcing the audience to choose what to look at and where to look. Costumes and props scattered throughout the audience brought on interactions between the artists and viewers that turned several audience members into performers themselves.
What is male? What is female?
From the very beginning, gender lines were blurred. Freitas performed topless for the majority of the show – wearing purple lingerie for one section then doing a Prince impersonation shortly after, Bengolea performed a section wearing a strap on penis then later performed in a red dress, Chaignaud seamlessly shifted between elaborate drag costumes to street clothes, while Harrell wore khakis and a sweater the entire show. The obscured gender lines were less about sexuality and orientation than they were about identity and self-actualization.
Will the real Mimosa please stand up?
In the beginning, each performer introduced themselves as “Mimosa.” In subsequent pieces they explained what made them “Mimosa” and how they came to identify with that word. At the end, they each made their case for why they are the “real Mimosa.” So who is the real Mimosa? In the film Paris is Burning, being “real” meant to inhabit a persona so fully that you could walk down the street and no one would question whether or not that’s the “real” you. In (M)imosa, the performers committed to each character, each persona, so that the audience couldn’t tell when they were in character or not. Their use of costumes, makeup, prosthetic, and so on, did not mask their true selves, but enhanced it. The performers utilized all that culture has to offer to highlight that there is not a singular definition of what is real. People have many faces, persona, attitudes, ideas and, like Mimosa, they change, evolve, and grow.