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Friday, January 13, 2012

Naked women dancing, Baryshnikov sighting and super comfortable seats at Young Jean Lee's Untitled Feminist Show

First I want to say that I'm not a dance critic, or any kind of critic besides a book critic, nor do I want to be. For proper professional real performance art criticism, read Culturebot or the forum of your choice.

Another caveat is that I've seen probably less than five dance performances in my life. I go to theater more than I go to the movies, and I read a lot, and sometimes I go to museums. Those are the main forms of art I consume. The idea of dance performances is not one that sounds like something I'd like. It sounds over my head, like the ideas are being expressed in a language I don't speak, hence I shy away from it, which is perhaps a vicious cycle. So in the interest of recommending it before I forget what I saw or chicken out that this is useless and amateurish, here are my thoughts.

But when my friend H. invited me to see Untitled Feminist Show by Young Jean Lee at Baryshnikov Arts Center, I said yes, based almost entirely on this image:

First thing that happened is that as we were standing outside saying hi to Melissa Febos, she spotted Baryshnikov. I'm not sure I would've recognized him, but there he was entering the theater. He was part of the audience too. We went inside and admired the crowd, which seemed to be a mix of queer folks in their twenties and thirties, burlesque fans, and theater and dance fans.

I wish I had a photo of the seats, because I think I can safely say they are the most comfortable theater seats I've ever sat in, and the prettiest. They are a teal-ish blue and were extremely comfortable; I could easily lie down and sleep on them. That helped, cause I tend to get fidgety.

Once the lights went down, the six naked performers started making their way down the stairs on either side, breathing heavily. By the time they reached the stage, I knew this was not going to be a "regular" dance performance. Firstly, it was funny. I felt invited to both ogle and appreciate and laugh at the absurdity of the naked women onstage. The dancing involved skipping, leaping, running, head banging, touching, acrobatics, acting, interacting, laughing, crying, fighting, flirting with the audience, and simulating sex acts, among other things. I was surprised that it was a far cry from whatever my preconceived notions of "dance" were.

My takeaway was that I didn't need to "know" or decipher what ever scene "meant" to enjoy it. That there were extremely minimal props besides the women's bodies--namely, lights, music and a few parasols--is remarkable. And about those bodies: not only don't you see six naked women onstage very often, but seeing the range of bodies, from what I can only describe as butch, to plus-size, tattoos peeking out here and there. Their nudity was certainly a major component of the performance, which struck me when they came out onstage at the end to take a bow in a variety of clothing and styles that I'm pretty sure would've been distracting during the show. Seeing them move in all kinds of motions naked and utterly comfortable in their skin was moving and inspiring. It made me appreciate the strength it took to lift up another woman and make it look effortless, to be so seemingly at ease. That I admired greatly.

The highlight, for me, was seeing Hilary Clark rock out to a number that was just remarkable; she was at one with the music, hair whipping each way. It was this totally pure rock appreciation moment, and she took it into the audience, including dancing right on over to Baryshnikov. It was beautiful and glorious and then segued into a fight scene that was my second favorite, in slow motion. It was a strange sensation to enjoy watching women fighting, even if it was in the context of a performance; it was beautiful, and that kindof messed with my head, but it was also real. Women aren't always BFFs with each other, and the show touches on jealousy and outsiderness and being part of a group and excluded from one. At least, I think it does.

In conclusion, I really have no idea what the fuck I'm talking about and I'm obviously self-conscious about that, but in the spirit of writing is always better than not writing, a lesson I'm still slowly, painfully and expensively learning, I'm gonna share this because I am so glad I went to the show. It was beautiful and captivating and fascinating and utterly entertaining.

Read more: Time Out New York interview with Young Jean Lee

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