Nico Tower + Maya Soto invited us into their project, intellectually and boldly, through a series of guiding questions in the program. “How do we perform race, gender, and sexuality? What have we learned without being directly told? How much agency do we have within our choices? What sorts of double standards are placed on womxn? How do we find resilience and healing?” The questions, along with a curtain speech inviting us to to “lean in,” and allow ourselves to be confused, perfectly prepared the audience for engagement in a powerful work.
Beautiful Carcass opens with a dancer in a black sparkly leotard with what appeared to be cotton candy for a head, alone in a spotlight. A circus announcer voice, off stage and backed by old-timey music, asked us to observe the dancer as if she were a creature in a side-show, both blinded by the pink tuft of tulle around her head, and unseen due to her facelessness. She moved alone, beautiful in graceful bends of the spine and floating arms, and yet she revealed periodic shame in her body–covering herself with her hands, moving more nervously in her spotlight until exhaustion brought her to the floor. The audio soundtrack built up to a multitude of unintelligible voices, noises of unseen masses.
Suddenly the cast of eight others appeared and paraded around the outside edge of the stage, taking control of the space, claiming it as their performance, staking the opportunity to be powerful yet observed. They moved in unison: walking, prancing, and even lunging monster-like. A unit of beings twitching and glomping, building on the movements and ideas of the cotton-candied circus dancer. Like music box dancers, they whirled through a series of spotlights, simultaneously rotating around the room and spinning on their own axis. What shows we put on, they seemed to be musing. The spotlights invited close observation, each dancer creating individual movements in the stark white: leg lifts, balances, reaches and slow turns. They drifted away and were gone as quickly as they came.
Tower’s thread of music and monologue created an intense emotional backdrop to Soto’s choreography: the repeated phrase “she’s going to learn…” combined with cheerful music created an eerie falseness. Many of the recorded monologues, according to the program notes, came from the cast themselves, and others came from vintage sources like old fashioned women’s beauty tips. “The whole point is to look like a completely different person” was one line that sank deeply into the room. The dancers respond– arching on the ground, in unison, then some curled into fetal position, as though protecting their very bodies, sustaining the effort of trying, or confessing their exhaustion. Others kept moving right around them, part of the group leaving the worn out behind. More than one audience member watched with a hand over their mouth–some held back tears, others did not hold them back, and some simply contemplated somberly.
Props as simple as red clown noses, or with as much potential for cliche as children’s dolls, appeared with both solemnity and humor. Emma Hreljanovic stood in underwear and a clown nose, and waited through the giggles and discomfort of her audience until her clothes were brought out, at which point she was welcomed into the group of identically costumed dancers behind her. She was bashfully humorous in realizing that merely clothing, such a simple necessity, was the thing missing, yet the scene gave profound commentary on female belonging and being othered until she looked like the rest.
After a scene where the cast danced with dolls, Noelle Price remained, swinging her doll violently back and forth by the hair, almost trancelike. Then she looked out, stopped, seeing the audience seeing her, a woman of color interacting with the white doll. She too was othered, singled out, and yet she brought the audience in with her presence, invited them to feel a little of the place she was in.
After Price dropped the doll and walked calmly off, Hreljanovic returned to sweep away the dolls and their various limbs now scattered across the stage. Though she went about her duty with humor and tucked a plastic limb into her bra, there was an acute sadness and bitterness in her sweeping. The symbolic and literal pieces of femininity and femaleness became a tangle of useless bits sloughed from the performance space.
Beautiful Carcass captivates and provokes with an array of images that represent female experiences. Dancers breathe, whisper, and flail together in a communion of belonging. They push against the floor in either a birthing or sexual position, and they enact a variety of emotions around OBGYN appointments through dance and sound. Tower and Soto present many layers of femaleness and make no attempts to simplify; the isolation and unity of motherhood are both present, in the same way that the decision to have or not have children is left open. The monologues in Spanish that make up part of the soundtrack are left largely untranslated. Sit with what you thought you knew about being female, says Beautiful Carcass, and let us remind you of the mess in all the pieces you thought you had arranged.
Beautiful Carcass was performed May 11-13, and continues May 18-20, 2018 at Alhadeff Studio at Cornish Playhouse in Seattle. The full cast is Angel “Moonyeka” Alviar, Rebecca Barney, Meghan Courtney, Kaitlyn Dye (KJ), Adriana Hernandez, Emma Hreljanovic, Noelle Price, Elizabeth Sugawara, Tshedzom Tingkhye.
Tickets are available at https://beautifulcarcass.brownpapertickets.com/