I would firstly like to say that I am in no way shape or form a dance critic and have never done anything like this before…
However, I have chosen to write a review of a work I saw last night at university, choreographed by the lovely Jana Prager as a thesis for her masters within the dance department.
Walking into the theatre I immediately noticed the backdrop. Hundreds of women’s knickers sewn by hand onto hanging white sheets. Such a bold statement of feminity seemed almost humourous at first – but as a women I began to recognise all the different kinds of lingerie in front of me. What occasions would I wear these for? Why did it matter?
The piece – aptly called FEMME – features nine (female) dancers and is based on the experience of being a young female in the 21st century. In the first section the dancers walk onto the stage one by one wearing only a bra and knickers. They start putting on and performing phrases with the dresses that are strewn across the stage, before moving into expressive floor sequences and standing phrases. To me the movements reflected the feeling of trying on clothing, attempting to find the best angle and the best fit, eventually becoming dissatisfied with what you see. There were contractions of the abdomen, creating empty spaces in the front of the body, which I felt symbolised a feeling of trying to hide. It seemed to me that all the dancers were caught in a state of limbo, wanting to show off their bodies but also wanting to hide them at the same time. Even so, it occurred to me that their movements were always for someone else – not for their own pleasure. What’s more, although there were moments of synchronisation between the dancers, they seemed mostly disconnected from each other. I felt that this spoke to the constant competition and comparison women feel towards one another, as well as the disconnection from their own bodies, viewing themselves and other women as objects.
Let’s not forget that heels were designed for women by a man, to make the female figure more appealing by making the legs appear longer and straighter (…more erect?).
After the interval, we returned to our seats to see a line of 9 chairs on the stage, each with a pair of heels at the foot. The dancers came on in blackout, put on their heels and sat on the chairs. Their lower legs were then lit up, whilst the dancers shifted between ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ ways of sitting. There was something almost phallic about their bare legs from the knee down being the only thing visible to the audience. Let’s not forget that heels were designed for women by a man, to make the female figure more appealing by making the legs appear longer and straighter (…more erect?).
From here there was a duet between two dancers and their heels. They mostly kept their gaze towards the shoes, as if they were an object of lust. At the same time they were held in their hands and kept at arms length, showing their reluctance to wear them.
What has society done to us where we feel almost horrified to see a pair of breasts?
After these two dancers had left the stage, one by one the other dancers started to reenter, dressed in nothing but a nude coloured skirt. At first I felt like a some kind of strange voyeur, very aware that there were 9 topless women dancing in front of me. However as the section went on I became less and less interested in the nudity and more interested in the obvious. The 9 talented women on stage. The more I watched the dancing unfold the more ridiculous it seemed that I had even felt awkward at all. It was like a dark, haunting yet beautiful celebration of the female body. Dark and haunting because seeing these women in the natural form had initially felt so wrong. What has society done to us where we feel almost horrified to see a pair of breasts? The dancing in this section seemed almost angry, it made me feel disappointed and frustrated that we ever let it get this far. Each and every dancer on the stage looked beautiful, and I applaud their strength and courage to bare themselves like that in a world that does not allow them to.
The piece ended with the dancers fully clothed, moving as if they were I front of a mirror. Blank expressions, big eyes focused straight ahead, almost flaunting and examining their feminine curves. As I watched I saw a reflection of everything that I am, I saw everytime I had looked in a mirror and felt disappointed, everytime I had dressed and presented myself for others, everytime I had been angry at my body for being female. I felt a deep sadness for women everywhere, so controlled by the male gaze that we don’t celebrate our feminity (however that shows up for us), but rather we hide away from it in disappointment, shame and insecurity.
As I watched I saw a reflection of everything that I am, I saw everytime I had looked in a mirror and felt disappointed, everytime I had dressed and presented myself for others, everytime I had been angry at my body for being female
The work showed me how far we still have to go before women can rightfully claim their space and voice within society without judgement or criticism. The bravery and beauty of the dancers shined through as they continued the call for reform started by our grandmothers in the early 1900s. I found the whole experience extremely moving, and ultimately I was so proud to call the brave women on stage my friends.
Well done ladies you are all amazing