Wo(Men) and Me comprised two dance performances that played with conceptions of gender identity and the idea of the perfect body, choreographed and performed by Tonny A, Nick Smith and Jean Magnard. The Blue Elephant theatre also hosted an art exhibition of works by Charlie Pi that complemented the performances, beautiful pieces on costume and identity, many of which featured Tonny A.
The first piece named AR-Men, with dancers Nick Smith and Jean Magnard dressed in white boxer shorts and laid prone beneath a sheet of clear plastic while a black and white film was projected onto the back wall of the stage. Tonny A played the part of the Mad Scientist and stood imposingly with his back to the audience, wearing a black shirt, trousers and boots. The film that was projected showed a man struggling beneath a sheet of clear plastic, while the dancers on stage remained motionless until the film finished and the Mad Scientist pulled back the sheet that was covering them and revealed his ‘Lab Rats’; putting them through a series of physical commands that he made from a seat at the back of the audience, until they collapsed and he strapped them to the floor with gaffer tape down in their fallen positions.
The film played again, this time with the dancer struggling with latex gloves as his prop, and when it’s over the dancers free themselves from their gaffertaped confines and we finally see what I’ve been waiting for, some ‘proper dancing’. The dancers move beautifully, revelling in their physicality, pulling poses and making movements as though each is trying to trump the other, one seeming to be an example of more primal masculinity, making hunting movements, and the other more of a poised male ideal- the athlete. Again they work themselves into a frenzy and collapse, awakening for some gorgeous contact dancing as they writhe around each other, bearing one another’s load until their eventual escape.
I happened to speak to one of the dancers in the interval and he told me that the performance was a work in progress, something that they’d been working on for the last few weeks but was only been finalised for performance an hour or so before we saw it. Unfortunately I think this air of being not quite finished came across in a few moments. The dancing was well executed and lovely to watch, the initial set-up for the narrative of the piece and the film sequences felt overlong and less decisively played.
The second piece was a solo from Tonny A exploring androgyny as he is ‘danced by women’s songs in an attempt to re-access the feminine within himself’. All the usual suspects appeared on the soundtrack, Kylie, Madonna, even a touch of ‘Jessie J’ used ironically with Do it Like a Dude. The piece opened strongly, with a very burlesque striptease handled with impressive adeptness by Tonny A, whose arms are shortened by the effects of thalidomide. Vanity objects and make-up are placed on the stage and Tonny goes on to strut, parodying the catwalk and falling in love with his image in a mirror.
Then however he takes a different turn, reappearing onstage in just a shawl with his back to the audience, playing with poses that seem to suggest religious piety before revealing himself stark naked. I was expecting him then to redress himself as a woman and engage with the rest of the vanity props that had been placed, but instead he self-flagellated with a necklace and continued to dance naked solipsistically until the end of the piece. The piece challenged my expectations, but didn’t really offer an alternative insight. I couldn’t quite see how the piece was relaying androgyny once the nudity had been revealed, and it seemed that once he was naked the piece had nowhere else to go, but go on it did. Again, perhaps because it was a work in progress on its first night there was still a refining stage to go through before the piece could be declared finished, as there were definitely moments that seemed superfluous.
Both pieces that formed Wo(Men) & Me were beautifully danced and had wonderful touches of humour as well as some darker moments. The message about physicality, gender, self-image and the perfect body was thought-provoking and well-conveyed at points, although a little confusing during other moments. It was interesting to see a man’s take on femininity and performative sexuality, and the piece felt personal and raw if not quite completely finished.
Wo(Men) & Me played at the Blue Elephant Theatre.