United KingdomVarious Composers, Motherland, Vincent Dance Theatre – Southbank Centre’s WOW – Woman of the World Festival, London, 06.03.2014 (J.O’D)
Leah Yeger and Charlotte Vincent. Why Oh Why by Woody Guthrie
Originally Devised and Performed by:
Text by: Charlotte Vincent, Liz Aggiss and the company
At the start of Vincent Dance Theatre’s Motherland, shown in the Southbank Centre’s WOW – Women of the World Festival (http://wow.southbankcentre.co.uk) and on tour around England and Scotland, its ten performers (five female, five male) walk out on to the white stage one by one, look briefly at the audience, then walk off again. They seem to be introducing themselves and summing us up at the same time. The rather gentle sound of a violin accompanies them as they do this. If there is something confrontational in their direct return of the gaze, there is compassion, rather than contempt, in their smiles. In their black dresses and black, high heeled shoes, the four older women (the fifth female figure is a 12-year old girl in a long, lace-trimmed dress and sneakers) look comme il faut. It comes as something of a shock when the first woman (Aurora Rubos) returns with a bottle from which she throws a red liquid representing menstrual blood at waist height against the white, back wall of the stage. Hoisting up her black dress, she then stands facing the audience with her legs apart. The second woman to appear (Andrea Catania) walks on to the stage and, this time, immediately falls to the floor.
These two gestures are repeated throughout the piece to signal the beginning of its different sections. Menstrual blood is central in a work that mixes words with movement to deal with fertility, and motherhood, and the roles women adopt or are given to adopt. The 12-year-old girl (Alice Hockey) treads what the programme notes call ‘a delicate path’ through this funny, sometimes disturbing but always compassionate presentation of ‘femininity as masquerade’ (a term I first read used in relation to the fashions of Elsa Shiaparelli). The piece is equally delicate in its treatment of her. At the other end of the spectrum is a considerably older woman (the clear-voiced Joan Plunkett) who at one point traces the blood stains on the wall with a finger in a way that made at least one woman in the audience sigh.
Among the five men, in suits and white or grey shirts, are two musicians (Adrian Oxaal and Scott Smith). They appear ironically detached, but provide more, gentle accompaniment for the sad song that the fifth woman (Patrycja Kujawska) sings as she divests herself of blonde wig and false eyelashes, and contorts her way across the stage. Darren Anderson dances a moving duet with Aurora Rubos. Greig Cooke seems always trapped in the circular motions of what writer André Lepecki refers to as male solipsism. Janusz Orlik effortlessly transforms himself, with a black dress and shoes that are both shinier and higher-heeled than those of the women, into a figure from Beyoncé Knowles’s ‘Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)’ video. So great is the frisson as he does this that Andrea Catania, who is sitting at the back of the stage after having moved there across the floor in a way that is itself a further rejection of ‘phallic verticality’, has to raise a hand when he finishes to remind us, ironically, that as a forgotten, ‘real’ woman: ‘I’m still here.’