Creating authentic artistic experiences in relation to the meaning and multiplicity of queer and gender diverse peoples embodied experiences (the vision of Rainbow Youth’s artistRY group) became common ground this evening for Lydia Zanetti’s SAME, Val Smith’s FUCK YOU FUCK ME (FYFM). Within this incredibly feel good and authentic supportive gesture of a fundraising evening, as part of SEP ARATE season at the Basement theatre, a sense of ‘other’ or being ‘other’ was part of the experience. The specific context of this event (being a fundraiser for Rainbow youth) added to the already provocative and compelling artistic content of the performance work.
Zanetti’s SAME began the evening followed by Smith’s FYFM transporting us from concepts of the individual to ‘lived relations’ between self and other. Both works explored the borders of ‘who we think we are’ and the idiosyncrasies of the performing body. Under the thematic fringe of hair the two choreographic works revealed a great deal of growth and transformation (due to a few blow waves and a dye or two) from the two earlier works by each of the artists. I had seen both of these earlier works and was interested in how the politics of hair in relation to culture, gender, power, and politics of the body beautiful might infiltrate this evening’s performance.
SAME – The veil of the curtain hair muff at the back of center stage as the star attraction revealed and beckoned both the audience and performers. A face appeared beneath multiple fringes (Lisa Greenfield) and it soon became apparent that there was much more to be said than just a furry face framing. Might there also be a link with the musical HAIR from the 1960’s representing the hope of the younger generations towards the new Age of Aquarius? (considering Zanetti’s love for musicals) and also an appropriate theme for tonight’s special event. This work like others of Zanetti’s I’ve seen, play with perceptions of bodies creating illusions of strange, disembodiment and other, questioning what we think we know and what we see. In this work she has created (with the performers) a well-considered pastiche of individuals bought together by their difference, Legs that don’t belong to the body, an expression that doesn’t relate to the action, a faceless hairy creature slowly inching around the space (Tallulah Holly-Massey). Characterisation was well developed with each of the four performers having a clear distinct focus of exploration and emotional connection that defined their own sense of self. Stand out performances from Isobel MacKinnon as clowning boy/girl, who included the audience in her explorations with household body prosthetics, was hilarious and touching. We felt empathy for her watching her enthusiastic feats of despair and embodiment of facial bewilderment. Also a wonderful performance by Mattie Hamuera with legs that defied gender, playing between fem, fierce and playful poi dancer, that reminded me of the Hoola Hoop girl from Lloyd Newson’s Cost of Living. Each performer cross-referenced fem, butch, ideas of acceptance, laughing at ones self, honesty, ridiculousness and the vulnerable. Others images were standing on the edges at parties and hiding in corners. Strangely there were plenty of moments to laugh as each performer constructed a small event of life’s concerns. Although I would have like to also see Lydia herself perform, her work is tenderly responsive to the current cultural issues of the now. She is proving herself to be an interesting and innovative choreographer that has developed a sure sense of her self, tackling concepts relative to youth of today. SAME really held its own within the context of the evening in setting up real life experiences to evoke empathy from the audience.
In contrast FYFM by Val Smith continued to pull apart concepts of gender identity through further penetration into the other via a post-human world of sense and affect. Described as a conversation that unravels the concept of the ‘hetero-dance duet’, the somatic embodiment of performing body, gender (less) and power dymanics between two ‘Mam-malls’ or ‘Ani-Wo-min’ meant this piece lived up to its name FUCK YOU FUCK ME exploring notions of gender and intimacy. Immersive sensations experienced between Val Smith in her hairy wig beast costume and her collaborator Tru Paraha in synthetic pure white tinsel puff outfit, were witnessed. Performing to a great mix of music in particular beginning and ending with Dudley Benson’s ‘Tui’ provided a gentle context of nature SLASHED with culture (assisted by Fatty Boom Boom by Die Antwood and Shake it up by Divine). Beginning with unspoken introductions and self-conscious somatics the performance then moved into a ‘Fucking Sensational’ performance.
Bodies becoming animal, becoming each other “becoming sensation” expressed the animalistic nature of two bodies moving together. The costumes, contributed to the visual disorientation of not knowing which way was up. A bum, a face, an arm, legs, a bum near a face, bums connected via a tea trolley. Sensation builds to ecstasy with tinsel pom poms, tea trolley connections, rotations, connecting a beast with two backs. Humour is apparent in the grandiose nature of the costumes that are in line with the drag costumes of the late drag icon Leigh Bowery. Glamour is evident and bodies are mutated, extended, and performed. As I am familiar with Val’s research interests I can see explorations of gender and identity in relation to touch. Her questions are often around ‘who do I become?’ in relation to another and particularly when in a contact duet. Tonight this is explored with a sense of irony. Paraha’s contribution further fuels the work contributing to an “in your face” attitude to self, meeting Smith in a liminal space that challenges the borders of performance that is a common point of interest for both of the artists. The performers are enfolding, enveloping multiple concepts within the materiality of bodies, hair, synthetic, fluff and tinsel, shaking gyrating as we respond uncomfortably with laughter. An extended arm creates distance between them perhaps suggesting the distance between visual imagery and the act of sensation. The increasing intensity also refers to power and manipulation. Performers stop at times realizing we are there, noticing the unusual.
This work brings attention to sexual imagery, particularly heterosexual, and makes me think about how we all deal with this when being intimate with another person. In this performance we are witnessing a direct reference to what is taboo about the body and intimacy. What is the difference between bodily sensation and sexual sensation? A hug turns into body rub then turns into something between the legs. What is it to sit in the dark and watch or witness two people, together in close proximity? The performers focus on the in between space of bodily sensations and the borders of each other. With an embodied awareness of what it might represent, they create some kind of open space to allow us in, to perform this as a critique, as a politics of the body.
I believe that this work is quite outstanding, it confronts, it celebrates and it opens itself to the audience. I love the way Val Smith and Tru Paraha are bordering into new territories of dance and theatre without trying to. They do this by re-cutting the fabric of performance into their own styles and fashion, creating their own mutations of identity that encourages others to do so. They make a great duo.
Including D.Js and an after party this event encompassed what it is to bring people together as art and community. Once again I am reminded that this kind of event promotes a way of being that is supportive, subversive and outside social constructs of power and authority, encouraging creativity resistance and strength. Such an outlook is particularly important for the development of young people’s identity but also encourages ways of thinking that support the performing arts as valuable for the growth of our community. Such ideas create new ways of relating to each other, which I consider important in a world full of rapidly changing hair-styles.
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