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Dancing Around Issues With GENDER TENDER


GENDER TENDER performers in Heels and Flats
Photo by Vanessa DeWolf

The 2013 Seattle Fringe Festival featured GENDER TENDER in Heels and Flats, an absurd experimental performance, at the Richard Hugo House this past weekend. Directed by Syniva Whitney, this piece was filled with the group’s usual à la carte items of latex sculpture, dance, gender-fluid fashion, and lip sync. This time, these came together in a performance presented in the style of a football team’s practice.

Whitney and Courtney’s lip sync opening featured the contrasting heavy stomping footwork drill of a jock with the silent tip-toe bourrée of a ballerina. They threw out questions to the audience such as “I want to know like… who’s pitching? And like… who’s catching? Who’s like… the cheetah? And who’s like… the leopard?” While their monologue mocked the roles that society has assigned to people based on their gender, the duet quickly left the subject and moved onto their next drill, where the rest of the performance group joined in with latex heels and flat shoes. Their other latex objects underwent transformation from doors, into IKEA furniture, into huge genitals inside the performer’s skirts and shorts. While three performers, including Courtney, displayed the IKEA furniture, another performer created an optical illusion as they walked down a red carpet “upside down,” with latex heels in their hands and their skirt covering their head.

GENDER TENDER’s Heels and Flats
Photo by Willsyn

Another absurd and hilarious drill followed, as four jocks presented Tchaikovsky’s Four Swans variation to a melody incorporating popular acronyms like lol, omg, lmao, etc. Their version opened a conversation about how we are used to seeing ballerinas dance to Tchaikovsky’s music, and therefore how we attach stereotypes to music. Later on, Ava Cole and Loren Othon’s song introduced a beautiful moment that seemed unattached to that same conversation. These two sections were the best parts of the performance, as they stood independently without any need for context within the framework of the team’s practice. However, this stand-alone quality was not present for other moments in the piece, such as three minutes of laughter after displaying the IKEA furniture.

The last drill, “Personal Issues,” had mainly inspiring and comical moments. Yet again, the performers simply touched upon subjects tabooed in society, without fully diving into them. This drill was a race in which three groups had to reach the opposite side while wearing shape-shifting latex costumes. They provided the background for the performers, who were called upon by Whitney to speak about their personal issues. Whitney brought up how she despised department stores because items were categorized in accordance to gender. Eli Steffen, on the other hand, brought up how seeing a therapist can be an unpleasant event as they ask people to connect with their emotions. Kristi Krein brought up her uneasiness with how she had been told she could get away with drinking a beer outside a bar simply because she was a “pretty white girl,” and how she hadn’t confronted the situation because “she was from Seattle.”

While Krein made light of Seattleites for not speaking about issues, GENDER TENDER as a whole might want to explore other ways to bring up gender, race, queer identity, and more issues affecting people without simply pointing at the elephant in the room— and perhaps take on an educational role that promotes discussion in this city.

Heels and Flats ran September 18-21, 2013. For more information on GENDER TENDER, visit their Facebook page.