To spark discussion, the Walker invites local artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, Sam Johnson from SuperGroup shares his perspective on Thursday night’s performance of Untitled Feminist Show by Young Jean Lee. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!
I’m a performing artist. I don’t think I have ever shared my thoughts about a show in writing in a public forum. Definitely not a blog post. Maybe a college paper, which is kind of pseudo-public. It scares me. I can’t speak with authority about any of this.
Going into the show last night I knew there would be nudity. Lots of it. The promotional material made that clear. Sitting there before it started I thought about the main image I had seen to promote the show. With the censor bars. I wondered if those bars would work retroactively to the show. That a show that (I was hoping) would revel in nudity had a public image making it clear that nudity should be covered.
This is not a critique, I understand why it was necessary. I decided to allow it to start off my mind in complexity/ambiguity/contradiction. And all those people in the audience, sold out, abuzz. I wondered why? Young Jean Lee’s recognition and deserved (I think, though I am no expert; I said that already, right?) accolades? The promise of nudity? The word “feminist” in the title? The energizing spring in January? I’ll assume it was all of that.
As the lights went down to start the show I felt a great amount of anticipation: How will I be introduced to these naked bodies? If this show has no text, as I’d heard, what will it have? Why is it still billed as theater? Uh-oh, stay focused.
I objectified the performers almost immediately upon their entrance. This kind of objectify: “to represent concretely; present as an object,” not the kind where bodies are turned mentally into only sexual objects. As their naked bodies walked past I marveled at them. The structures and presence and physicalness. The bones and sinew and flesh and skin and hair.
And as the piece went on I found myself lost in the bodies. When I checked in I wondered if I wasn’t that interested in what was actually happening on stage – the narratives and commentary. The fairytale-like story happened. I saw a lot of different representations of women. Mother/caretaker/sex/fighter/witch/innocent/dancer/fire/bitch/waif/man/pop star/child/burlesque performer, etc.
But none of it drew me away from the bodies.
I felt the presentation of things. This white square far away from me where these naked people danced. And it felt like they danced for the audience as much as for themselves. I noticed that I kept wondering if I would at some point feel like I was watching a community develop apart from me, but I mostly felt pretty continually addressed, included, explicitly, one way or another.
And I wondered what it would be like to have breasts. In a way that I hadn’t thought about in awhile, or ever. The physical weight and presence of them. And I wondered if I would be turned on in a different way if the whole cast was attractive, naked men. And how that would change my experience.
And I kept noticing the music. How I kept feeling like it drove the movement and set the tone. I didn’t like it. I didn’t like how much it felt like an outside force: prearranged, set. Maybe that was the point. During the shaking section–which led into a thrashing/bouncing/angry/joyful/powerful/confrontational/inclusive solo–I wanted the heavy guitar music to stop. I wanted to feel like the energy was more mysterious. I didn’t want to draw lines back to the music, but I did.
As I left the theater I had a lot of questions. Why this why that. Why was the vocalizing almost exclusively when only one person was on stage? Why text in that one song, in a language I couldn’t understand? What do all of these archetypes of femaleness tell me? Why did so much of the big movement seem so general to me? Why could I feel the segments so strongly? Did I like that? What did that last image mean? Why don’t I find the same things funny so many people in the rest of the audience find funny? Etc… etc… etc…
But I also had all that time with all those bodies. That intimate knowledge. The celebration and reverence and messiness and joy and voyeurism and complications.
What did you think? Feel? Know? Question? Respond to? Respond to?! Respond to this! Please!