by Kat Richter for The Dance Journal
September 19, 2012
I had high hopes for Young Jean Lee’s Untitled Feminist Show. The title (or lack thereof) was delightfully precocious in a jaded graduate student sort of way and the premise, a “utopian feminist experience,” left me eager to take my seat at the Suzanne Roberts Theater last night. Unfortunately, it didn’t live up to the hype. The hour-long performance was just too unfocussed in its creation of intentional discomfort but it did have its moments, thanks mainly to Amelia Zirin-Brown, Regina Rocke and Becca Blackwell.
Perhaps now would be a good time to mention that all six performers were naked. I’d been avoiding this so far, because it was a neutralized, asexual sort of nudity that left nothing up to the imagination (especially as four of the dancers entered the stage through the house) but it was, I believe, the entire point of the show.
The evening began with a slow, almost meditative piece in which the dancers moved from one tableau to another. They held one another’s hair and splayed their legs as if daring the audience to react. Zirin-Brown then assumed the persona of a witch and Rocke sang an entire song that consisted of nothing more than “La-la-la” as she sauntered across the stage like a true Broadway diva.
The dance high point of the evening occurred in an ensemble piece where the performers mimed the daily routine of the “average” woman (grocery shopping, nursing baby, changing baby’s diaper, spreading mayonnaise on a sandwich) but they managed to endow their movements with a bootyliscious hip hop sexiness. It was simultaneously ridiculous and brilliant; I wish Lee had given us more of that.
Also worth noting was Zirin-Brown’s solo. Without uttering a single word, she winked at a man in the front of the theater and gave a suggestive shrug. A sexual charades marathon followed, running the gamut from blow jobs to fisting as Zirin-Brown attempted to solicit audience member after another. It was tongue in cheek—quite literally—and even though one doesn’t expect to see a parody of the porn industry onstage at the Suzanne Roberts, it was witty instead of crass and ended, quite unexpectedly, with Zirin-Brown singing a cappella.
But let’s return to the issue of nakedness, shall we? In Brian Sanders’ The Gate Reopened last week, I found the nudity unnecessary, even distracting. The choreography—not to mention the dancers’ high flying execution— was captivating enough without it and there was that awkward moment at the end of the show when the female dancers wrapped themselves in a pair of gray towels before making their exit. (Evidently it was okay to be nude two minutes ago but not now?)
In Bloom’s CITY earlier this spring at the Arts Bank, however, it worked. The act of being naked was central to the very meaning of the piece; it was both literal and metaphorical. But in Untitled Feminist Show, the act of being naked was necessary for a different reason: the dancing just wasn’t that good. Sure, Rocke and fellow dancer Katy Pyle were talented—their years of training were evident as they leapt in circles around the stage— but their duet wouldn’t have been half as intriguing had they been fully clad. Indeed, what made their performance interesting was the fact that they weren’t.
Towards the end of the show, the cast simply wiggled. And jiggled. For minutes on end. The message was something between female empowerment and “We’ve got junk in our trunk and we’re proud of it!” Lee’s talent for surprise and humor were evident but when dancer Jen Rosenblit galloped from the stage and ran up and down the aisles, shaking her hair at whomever she encountered, I felt like she was beating a dead horse. All six performers showed tremendous strength and vulnerability in their performances but Untitled Feminist Show was one utopia I’m not eager to revisit.
UNTITLED FEMINIST SHOW by Young Jean Lee’s Theater Company
September 20 2012 – September 21 2012
Philadelphia Theatre Company’s Suzanne Roberts Theatre, 480 South Broad Street, Philadelphia, PA 19146
Kat Richter is a freelance writer and teaching artist. Her work can be found at www.katrichter.com.
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