Thursday, January 19, 2012

Young Jean Lee and the naked truth

Untitled Feminist Show--created by award-winning director Young Jean Lee, choreographer Faye Driscoll, associate director Morgan Gould and other collaborators--has earned a place on my mental list of favorite dance events of the very young 2012. I know I'm going to have some explaining to do because--as I see here in Lee's program notes--Lee doesn't consider this work to be a dance piece. "Like the performers themselves," she writes, "the show is meant to resist categorization."

So, what am I talking about?

Well, aside from the fact that I would like to be able to claim every damn good thing in the Universe for dance, I'm beginning to get a sense that calling something "theater" (as she calls her company, after all: Young Jean Lee's Theater Company) is fine and dandy, but calling something "dance" is somehow limiting. 


Seems it was just yesterday that the idea of calling all sorts of wild and crazy (or mild and boring) things "dance" was bold and liberating.

In any case, Lee's six marvelous stars are performing arts of the body, including dance and some incredibly edgy mime, and they are stark naked throughout the hour. I'm calling this one for dance, and I will not be dissuaded.

I also hear tell--because I've been reading some of her interviews--that she doesn't want Untitled Feminist Show to be considered sexy. Oh, please. Nothing wrong with (or un-feminist about) sexy. Bring sexy back. In fact, this show does so--directly and indirectly.

What couldn't be genuinely sexy about six unselfconsciously nude, female-bodied performers, each with a distinct body type and size, defining themselves across a fluid gender spectrum and expressing, almost entirely in iconic and primal physical movement, how it might feel to be free?

Free is sexy.

They are Becca Blackwell, World Famous *BOB*, Amelia Zirin-Brown (aka Lady Rizo), Hilary Clark, Katy Pyle and Regina Rocke, collectively hailing from cabaret, theater, dance and burlesque with some crossovers, all stripped of theatricalizing makeup, hairstyling and, of course, costumes. They make a fabulous team in this fabulous romp, but Blackwell, Zirin-Brown and especially Clark seem to be having the most high-charged and, yes, liberating fun.

Some of them initially enter the space by slowly drifting down the aisles, giving the audience a sense of being represented in the performance space. (They come from us.) We hear their soft and human breathing, which establishes a comforting sense of common humanity. But don't get too comfortable. Although the inhabitants of Lee's feminist utopia sometimes sport frilly pink parasols, they're capable of using these items as weapons, and they'll happily consume their victim. No, you've never seen Marcel Marceau do the kind of mime you'll see in Untitled Feminist Show--at least, not on Ed Sullivan's show.

And check out that acid-trip video projection at the end! Through the Looking Glass, through the black hole you go! What are you going to be when you come out the other side?

With scenic design by David Evans Morris; lighting design by Raquel Davis; sound design by Chris Giarmo and Jamie McElhinney; and projection design by Leah Gelpe.

Untitled Feminist Show is a presentation of Performance Space 122's COIL Festival and runs at the Baryshnikov Arts Center through February 4. For information, schedule and ticketing, click here.

Jerome Robbins Theater
450 West 37th Street (between 9th and 10th Avenues), Manhattan

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