NOW CURATING: YOMI
s t r e e t a r t i s t
I met director and dancer Mira Treatman at a workshop series on Grotowski technique run by Scott Rodrigue. At first I thought, who is this quiet, intensely internal person? And then I thought, wow, who IS this quiet, intensely internal person? Though we only worked together in five workshops, I was struck by her unusual seriousness and determination, and was extremely pleased when she agreed to collaborate with Curate This. Mira has performed in works by Sylvain Emard, Renee Archibald, Gina T’ai, Chris Johnson, and Cie Carabosse/Teatro Linea de Sombra. Other long-term collaborations include three full-length narrative dances with Corinne “Marilu” Wiesner (Mod Nut, Cinder Ella, and Protestant Reggae Ballet) and Rejected Thoughts with filmmaker and actor Irina Varina.
-Julius Ferraro, co-founder
In making a performance my prerogative is to have supreme control over how people view the performer. This stems not from narcissism, but from an authentic desire to communicate my ideas clearly. Keeping folks’ attention is the only surefire way to get my points across and if no one gets those points, then I find the whole process of mounting work to be meaningless.
To create a performance I seek credibility. To appear this way, especially when portraying a version of myself, I forge a powerful and control-demanding physicality. I do not think this is necessary for all performers to gain credibility, but with my social status as female and youthful and 5 feet tall, it is perhaps a necessary evil (although I do derive much pleasure from feeling powerful and strong). To appear powerful in front of a public, I seek a neutral stance when I am not engaging directly in an action, one I lovingly dub “resting bitch body.”
Much like a “resting bitch face,” this neutral way of holding the body communicates disinterest in others while commanding others’ attention toward itself (see this summary in the New York Times). The stance frightens but no one can look away. This tension of “I want to look but it scares me” or “I want to look but I don’t know what I’m seeing” or “I’m looking and I like it but I don’t want to like it” is my goal. I desire the bitchy resting body because it serves as a poker face and is open for interpretation. At times this body’s manifestation is an authoritative public speaker; for example a lecturer may easily command attention because she’s moving intuitively like some kind of bird of prey. The tension of tracking her next move makes it hard for an audience member to look away. Other times this body is Mona Lisa-subtle. An audience member could stare at a bitchy resting body performer for the entire duration of her performance and have no sense of her emotional state. I am attracted to the fear-inciting ambiguity.
Codified performance forms come with their own neutral or default body positions and dance is probably the finest example of this. For concert dance-forms there is a default way that a trained performer carries herself when not executing a major step or theatrical action. Concert dance audiences come to the theater with a set of expectations, regardless of their familiarity with the choreography, of how to interpret or even read the performance through the neutral body stance of the performers. On the balletic end of the spectrum dancers are supported from their core with an erect spine conjuring a regal image while perhaps on the contemporary side dancers may have more fluidity and asymmetry in their spine. Regardless of these differences these neutral stances serve the same purpose in concert dance, which is to communicate the status of the performer. Through reading the bodies in neutral, the audience is primed to know who’s a hero or villain in a narrative and non-narrative work alike within the context of the dance-form. This is exactly the kind of tool kit I am pursuing in dance-theater making: to create a bitchy resting lens from which an audience clearly views my creation.
In addition to priming audience members, having a default neutral body serves as the barometer of normal. This might be one of my favorite parts about making new work, which is that I can sculpt the status quo to be whatever I desire. I create and set the barometer of normal. If a performer is portraying an ingenue, I can hypothetically have her assume the physicality of a wild turkey vulture and she can still be an ingenue in the world I’ve created. In actuality, I can also have this ingenue hold herself in a bitchy resting body stance where she’s still holding the role of the ingenue thematically, but her body is powerful, tough and authoritative. Using my own barometer of normal, this bitchy ingenue anomaly makes total sense.
Then there’s what in all of this keeps me up at night: my concern over whether or not having a resting bitch body as my neutral stance in fact reinforces stereotypes and the structures that cause cycles of violence and injustice propagated by the hierarchy resting bitch is trying to get away from. I know that I am perceived as a weak, lower status body in the Western performance canon, therefore I should present myself as tough and powerful to counteract the binary, right? But what if I just eschew the Western performance canon altogether and just have fun and portray my body ignoring all of that uber liberal crap drilled into my head since age 5. I seriously do not know! That’s why this keeps me up at night. Intentionally performing a resting bitch stance is reactionary and defensive towards the powers-that-be and it could be more powerful to ignore those powers altogether.
My favorite physical theater teacher of all time once made a comment to me that has stuck forever. I was trying to negotiate something with him, probably something like a deadline for an assignment or something of little consequence. He happened to be about a foot taller than me and so it was next to impossible to make eye contact with him without jutting my face up unless he was sitting. I found myself addressing him in this way frequently and began to develop a habit of sticking my chin out and widening my eyes for reasons I didn’t fully understand at the time. In my memory it was an instinctive way of communicating with a superior. That one day when I was making the negotiation, he called me out that sticking out my chin and widening my eyes did not make me appear more powerful whatsoever in the bargaining process. Ever since I’ve tried to figure out how to make things go my way through my physicality knowing that every little movement, whether consciously or subconsciously, becomes a data point for those viewing me to interpret. This favorite teacher even identified as a lefty feminist non-hierarchical experimental theater PhD and still I found myself viewing him as a superior. Ultimately, my drive to cultivate a powerful physicality comes down to something of a Napoleon complex. I’m okay with it.