Searching for the Meaning of Femme

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Intrepidus Dance’s effort to celebrate women, Femme, presented at Velocity Dance Center on May 6-8, sought to communicate an incredibly complicated topic by staging eight works choreographed and danced by women. Six of these were choreographed by artistic director Holly Logan. While the undertaking of such nuanced subject matter is admirable, many of the works presented provided only a surface-level approach. Two pieces shone through, however, finding emotional depth through text and movement.

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Intrepidus Dance in Incisions & Alterations
Photo by Jazzy Photo

Several of the pieces presented chose image over emotion, often choosing line in the movement over weight and momentum; as a result they felt detached from the reality of womanhood. Logan’s Incisions and Alterations began with a very rote use of canon featuring arabesques, pirouettes, chaînés, and fluttering arms. The dancers went on to undo their hair and dance more freely, connecting physical presentation with emotional freedom in a way not backed up by emotional expression. Logan’s solo, For Barbara, predominantly featured arm gestures, making it feel pantomimed. Using anguished face grasping and hair gripping, the emotion was only displayed in Logan’s arms and face, not present through her core. Barbara in particular depended on the music (Johnny Cash and AURORA) to portray the emotions intended rather than the movement itself.

 

In some dances, the portrayal of femininity represented both the expectations of what women are supposed to be as well as a mockery of those women. In Light of the Mood, another work from Logan, showed three dancers decked out in Cuban heels and flirty dresses dancing with twisting hips, stiff arms, and flexed hands, performing high kicks all while shimmying and shrugging their shoulders. There was some wink-and-nod humor to the piece, but it seemed to play into the stylized femininity of dresses, heels, and flirting that caters to a male gaze. Je Suis Une Femme closed the evening with a series of posed “sexy” vignettes that devolved into increasingly ridiculous portraits. It seemed to mock any expression of sexuality and did not end the night on an empowering note.

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Intrepidus Dance in Je Suis Une Femme
Photo by Jazzy Photo

The two most successful pieces explored womanhood in very different ways, but remained true to the subject matter. In Logan’s Shrinking Women, the strength of the work came from the recitation of text written by Lily Myers which touched on issues of eating disorders as well as the space women are expected to occupy in society. Dancer Heather Smith spoke clearly to the gendered way people are raised; in one repeated line she said her brother “was taught to grow out, I have been taught to grow in.” Smith’s small repetitive gestures and continued pacing created a mood of anxiety as well as ritualized homelife. She often contracted as she spoke of women shrinking and taking up less and less space, which furthered the metaphor. The other genuine success of the night came from …And Then You by Samantha Weissbach. This work found its clarity and truth in the honesty of emotion portrayed by the dancers. While other pieces prioritized visuals over genuine emotion, Then was a refreshing reprieve: it was all emotion. In a series of duets, the dancers showed true love and tenderness as they gently embraced and slow danced with one another.

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Intrepidus Dance in …And Then You
Photo by Jazzy Photo

Though Femme had the best of intentions in celebrating women, including a supply drive for Mary’s Place (a local charity benefiting women and their families), the subject of womanhood encompasses such a vast array of experiences that the show ultimately felt limited by their own personal perspectives. It did not portray a wide representation of women. Though two pieces captured genuine feeling, the rest felt a bit framed. The contradicting messages of being a woman and pantomimed mocking expressions fell flat. With the successes of Shrinking Women and …And Then You, it is clear there is much deeper subject matter that Intrepidus can continue explore. Womanhood is boundless in its possibility and expression, and there are so many more stories to tell.

More information about Intrepidus Dance is available on the company’s website.

2 comments

  1. As one of the dancers in Intrepidus, I feel it is important for me to share my experience, especially with Je Suis Une Femme. Je Suis was one of the most empowering pieces I’ve performed. From my point of view, it was about rejecting the societal expectations of sexuality and pleasing the male gaze in order to be the women we really are. While it was campy and amusing, the mockery was of the expectation that sexuality or femininity is supposed to look a certain way, and the empowerment was in saying “Fuck your expectations, this is my body, and my sexuality, and the only person I need to please is me.” We all get sick of appealing to beauty norms, and sometimes the way to rebel against it is to take it to the extreme.

  2. Firstly, allow me to start off by expressing how thankful I am not only as Executive Director of Intrepidus, but also as a viewer of dance, to have an organization like SeattleDances available as a resource to our community!

    As I too danced in Je Suis Une Femme, I completely echo Ciara’s take on the piece–as it mirrors my own. I at no point during the process felt or was led to believe that the choreographer’s intent was to mock women, and myself have come out of this concert feeling more empowered & comfortable in my womanhood than ever before.

    I’d like to invite all to read Holly’s afterglow piece on Femme here, which includes her take on Je Suis Une Femme: http://bit.ly/1PFotri

    Thank you again to SeattleDances for taking the time to review our show, and for providing a platform for continued conversations such as these!

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