I wanted to write about taking part in Gender Moves an LGBT+ community dance project run by Yorkshire Dance, exploring issues around gender, identity, activism and dance. Gender Moves is part of Performing Gender an international enquiry into these media panic inducing, culturally charged issues, working with artists from Spain, Netherlands, Slovenia, Italy and the U.K.
After attending last night’s sharing of research with solo pieces by the five international artists and coming to the end of the ‘Explore’ strand of Gender Moves, which included working with the lead dancers, it feels like a good time to reflect.
In the taster session we moved, we built confidence, we improvised and we tried to express ourselves through movement. The group is mixed, all ages, genders, identities. It feels like a good group. The final exercise is freeing I find myself through a series of focussing techniques, allowing myself to move in the space to the ethereal sounds, without thinking about the movement.
As far as I can work out so much of dance is about feel, not thinking but just allowing your body to move where it wants, without fear of ridicule or getting it wrong. This last point the notion of right and wrong, has followed throughout the May/June sessions known as Explore. Someone said to me at the sharing there is no right and wrong, there is just how you feel and that applies to making work, as well as watching work.
Some of the questions explored in the sessions have been very difficult, very challenging: masculine and feminine movement and poses, proved particularly difficult for some of the group and found us reaching for something mediated from a pre-existing cultural reference, a stereotype, or just being unable to respond to the demand.
For someone whose gender identity has never been fixed, the idea of shifting from one to the other like flicking a switch is problematic at the least. Where do you begin? Another question: If you weren’t told as a child, how would you know what your gender was? Minefield. After you have spent so much time, energy, often pain and sacrifice in establishing your identity, to be then asked to unpick that which you have created, that which shields you from interrogation, is a daunting and scary prospect.
Performing Gender Dance Makes Differences
I can only speak for myself but this process has involved a certain amount of honesty, openness, letting go, in order to engage with the group and the wider aims of the project. I enjoyed the session with the pro artists, the chance to work with them on an equal footing is so enlightening. We are all people moving in a space, responding to prompts to connect with our own body and reflect what others are doing.
I liked the trio work, moving from one position to the next and inventing your own creating a ripple effect. Thinking about detail, hand position, head position and expression. I said earlier so much about dance was about feel, it is also about expression, conveying different emotions through your face, eyes especially, aids the storytelling.
Something we touched upon in the workshops was quality – the way a dancer moves, whereabouts the tension is in the body, whether the movement is fluid like water flowing one into the other, or whether it is jerky like a robot on repeat. There has been a lot of ground covered in a short period of time. and the experience continues to be rewarding.
And now to the Sharing…
Jija Sohn ( Netherlands) introduced Tamago: egg as playing about with some ideas for five minutes or so. She proceeded to throw herself round the room with childlike abandon and huge energy. The Japanese pop music reflected her own culture growing up, the cute doll like Japanese stereotypes, indeed the throwing herself around was very akin to being a rag doll. The selfie culture and hyper-sexualised landscape was expressed through parodying suggestive poses and catwalks, interspersed with violent moments where Jija looked completely out of control. After all the formality and detail of the preceding weeks, this work was really refreshing.
Nataša Živković (Slovenia) looked to the experiences of previous generations to tell explore an f to m trans-narrative that was brought about by the strict patriarchal rules of land ownership. The women would ‘transform’ themselves into men in order to be able to own land. In a spoken narration which served as testament, a witness to their experiences, a line, that conveyed women’s status in Montenegro society historically, as being on a par with that of animals. By dressing in father’s clothes and picking up the rifle Nataša plays the part of man of the house, simply in order to survive.
There are a world of freedoms to be found as a man, these are expressed through traditional dance forms native to Montenegro, then contrasted with contemporary pop music celebrating rebellious female agency. It is this contrast or ambiguity that Nataša explains to me afterwards, that she wants to explore further. That despite the gender role shift being due to reasons of survival – quite frankly who would want to be treated as property, like an animal – if the only way to gain power is to be a man, what is that doing to the cause of women?
Roberta Racis (Italy) the sharing was inside the theatre space rather than the dance studio, so it immediately felt more like an event, like a performance. It felt the most complete work with three different sections – dance-works often come in three definable parts, I don’t know why but they do. Roberta is moving inside a chalk circle as we enter the space, she is topless painted in gold a living moving statue, elevating herself to something other, something to be revered maybe. The work was highly physical with the artist flexing and seemingly growing out of her body, contortions revealing every sinewy the gold paint accentuating the ribs, the muscles. The music was transcendental the movement euphoric, intoxicating, mesmeric. Repeated turns on the spot, head leading body, leg and arms outstretched, whilst moving in a circle. I said during the post-show talk I felt she wanted us to join her, there was something magnetic about the work that called to the audience to be involved.
Sophie Unwin (UK) ‘Doncaster actually’ a qualification raised at every opportunity. Sophie’s piece was about bodies but involved a great deal of spoken word and what was some version of stand up. Creeping, striding, stepping, across the front she bids us a tentative welcome to her space, using carefully selected words that compliment us, show a certain vulnerability, make us amenable to whatever is to come.
Using a loop-pedal she creates beats to perform a song about gender, about the pervasive nature of gender and class, gender is everywhere, it is a fun song that sends itself up but could be seen as viewing gender conceptually as a burden.
The extended moments of vibratory shaking in half light with the body like jelly, becoming a blur, seemed to be expressing the bodies own desire for agency, a body that is out of our control. I didn’t understand this piece as much as the previous ones but I felt like laughing, lightheaded: the atmosphere had completely changed.
Koldo Arostegui González (Spain specifically the Basque region) For what seemed like an age Koldo sat in a chair unmoving but then almost imperceptibly, his face changed shape to convey emotions anger, fear, doubt. He took-on the audience’s role in the piece and made it part of the work, stepping out of the performance – actors call it breaking the fourth wall – and asking us, ‘Is it enough?’ Then he proceeded to play with the audience and their reactions calling us out on whether we could do better.
The threads of history were present in the second part of Koldo’s piece where he sang beautifully, a number made famous by the cantantes from his youth. The dance I think, was like partner dancing, with the partner removed, perhaps a comment on a struggle to come out, to find oneself and then the final number Koldo transforms gloriously to diva.
Five very different artists, five very different responses, A very responsive audience, happy to engage in post-show discussion about the pieces and the subsequent party. It was like a window into how we might present dance to the uninitiated in this city.
I shall follow with interest how the pieces develop and how their responses begin to signpost the next phase of Gender Moves: Create.
There is a constant drive to make dance more accessible – we made some strides last year in Hull with Gary Clarke’s #IntoTheLight and Yorkshire Dance, now with Gender Moves there is an opportunity to take the exploration further, use dance to affect social change, and further personal growth.