by Olivia Wood for The Dance Journal
After rehearsing and performing intensively for two months, I felt the need to respond to what struck me as an exceptionally harsh and unfair review of Unhinged, a Philadelphia Fringe Festival piece co-directed by Teddy Fatscher and Frank Leone. An immense amount of reflection was needed prior to sitting down to write.
Thomas Choinacky, company member of Applied Mechanics, co-founder of SoLow Festival, and writer for ThinkingDance, attended our opening performance on September 4. Two days later, his article, “Stop Objectifying Women,” was published.
There is no question that I sympathize completely with the title of Mr. Choinacky’s article. As a young woman and burgeoning artist, I face objectification on a daily basis. However, I must stress that as one of the accredited devisors of the project, objectification was the furthest from my experience. In fact, I advocated for even more nudity to be utilized as a symbolic tactic to emphasize our bodies and movements as well as to highlight the overt political artistic statement, something Mr. Choinacky ignores entirely.
Upon reading his critique, I felt dismayed and disappointed, and not because he disliked the show. Art’s incredible subjectivity is the hallmark of its beauty. Rather, I was dismayed that someone so successful and so involved in the theatrical scene in Philadelphia could fail to perceive a deeper meaning in the project and disappointed that a writer for an online dance blog could disregard the movement in his analysis. The lack of depth suggests that minimal effort was made in understanding the artistic choices and subtleties present in Unhinged.
As an immersive piece and as suggested by the title, Unhinged challenges the spectators by confronting them with a series of haunting images. Mr. Choinacky was particularly struck by the white masks smeared with blood-red smiles (which were quite honestly the bane of my existence throughout the process because they restricted my ability to see well). He writes of me and my fellow dancers that the masks “creepily obscured their identity, as well as their personal feelings in regard to their situation.” Given that dance is a highly theatrical art form that often involves acting, it does not strike me as noteworthy that my personal feelings are not apparent during the performance. Also, while our faces were not visible, my castmates and I rehearsed tirelessly to develop our personal characters, which we endeavored to portray through the choreography. This method reminded me greatly of my semester at the Accademia dell’Arte in Arezzo, Italy, where I was exposed every day to “commedia dell’arte,” a physical acting technique in which all of the characters are masked.
Mr. Choinacky fails to acknowledge such a technique in his critique and also fails to describe the aforementioned situation in which the masked women find themselves. Allow me to give a brief explanation: the premise of Unhinged is a socio-political commentary which showcases many key issues of our contemporary society. Among these are the addiction to technology, the pernicious use of social media, the desensitization toward violence, wrongful imprisonment, the obstruction of justice, suicide, and yes, the objectification of women. And what better way to convey these frightening ideas to audience members than by making them walk among them like a haunted house?
A haunted house would not be complete without a long walk down a darkened hallway inhabited by frightening creatures, such as the masked women dressed in lingerie. As the theme of his argument is the lamentable objectification of women, this moment of the show is an excellent focal point. One possible interpretation could be that the hallway represents the red-light district. Another could be that we were zombies or ghosts, victims of the many heinous, sexual crimes committed against women. A third interpretation could allow the viewers to examine the ways in which they look at female bodies. And a fourth possible interpretation could propose that the hallway walk is a role-reversal, one in which the hunted become the hunters. Perhaps, then, the audience is made to feel unsettled, or even unhinged, to a purpose.
I would like to extend my gratitude to Mr. Choinacky for giving me the opportunity to explore the work that my colleagues (now dear friends) and I created on an even deeper level.