Saturday, November 5, 2016

Girl Gods (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

Art is metaphor.  Once we start thinking about it, that seems so obvious.  When overwhelmed by lies, obligations, contradictions and distrust we are Hamlet.  When all too young and all too in love we are Juliet.  And so on.  Yes we remain like them, but at its best theatre doesn't make us think about how much we resemble those on stage.  Rather, we recognize them.

They are us.

Girl Gods from Pat Graney gives us that experience.  First we see a world, that of this dance piece.  Two walls of white boxes on a white stage (designed by Holly Batt).  Within the walls, like niches in other (more famous) walls we see objects.  A tea set.  Plates.  Some folded cloth which will turn out to be things like aprons. Then a young woman in a formal but plain black dress appears, wearing big black high heeled shoes.  In one hand, she holds a tea cup and saucer.  As we watch, she crosses the stage in quiet, intense terror.  Not once do those heavy shoes make a sound.  Her practiced steps won't allow that.  Erie silence fills our ears, broken only by slight shaking of her hand, making the tea cup rattle.  She took what seemed like hours to cross.

Here then was our world, where we would visit for seventy minutes.  Pristine.  Monochrome.  A place of fear and ritual and where this young woman at least serves someone else (otherwise why not simply drink her cup of tea?).  Just to make a final point, as she exits the white wall of boxes become a screen as we see her (headless, via a choice in where to aim a camera) just as we've seen her, but underwater.  Continuing with her chore/ritual/task/punishment/duty.

We see other girls underwater later.  After a time, we understand.  They are drowning.  Eventually, we discover we are drowning with them.

All kinds of things ran through my mind watching this dance piece.  Women, I thought, seeking to understand or escape or transcend or change so simply survive strictures, rules, shapes.  Later I though about cruelty.  Quite a lot of cruelty--subtle but fierce--plays out.  Two vignettes about eating made my skin crawl, not least for knowing those struggling with bulimia, anorexia, or merely a never-ending quest for some perfect shape, a perfect weight.  I thought about how rage ends up re-shaped, forced into new directions, while watching the consistent pattern of infantilizing women played out--sometimes with humor, always with an edge of the grotesque.  Yet beautiful.

But never a lecture!  The dancers--Cheryl Delostrinos, Sruti Desai, Sarah Hogland, Lorraine Lau, Jenny Peterson--never take that cheap way out.  Never let us off any hook by such simplicity.  Pat Graney's piece remains as all great art, a puzzle to contemplate as well as a experience to sink into one's bones.  This one will stay with me for awhile.  Other audience-members when I saw it wept openly.  I felt that urge later, as certain images and motions surfaced in memory.  As I write this my mind goes to the title.  Girl Gods.  Why girls?  Why not women?  Eventually the idea comes--maybe because these characters remain, as yet, girls with womanhood to come?

Maybe.  Well into middle age I often feel this.  How can people expect me of all people to somehow function as an adult?  I'm not a man, but still a boy.  Just a boy.  Still growing up.  With so much yet to learn.

Like I said.  Recognition.  They are us.

For those concerned, this performance does include nudity.

Girl Gods as of this writing has performances Saturday Nov. 5 at 8:30pm and Sunday Nov. 6 at 3pm, at the REDCAT downtown, 631 West 2nd Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012.

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