Physical Fest 2019 was evocative, cleverly curated and a success all around. I performed my work “The Ten Inch Heels” for four audiences and it was fruitful to say the least. However, what I want to discuss today is some of the events and shows in relation to my readings of the representation of the female body and gender in those performances. Also, I want to share some of my reflections on Devoted and Disgruntled, an open space event that posed the question “What can we all do about female leadership and particularly those from a working-class background being under represented in the arts?

I stood by as a steady observer throughout the day, engaging only in conversation that I understood and felt I could fully contribute to. At first, I was wondering how other women feel they are currently underrepresented in the arts. Such as the examples that arose throughout the day; victims of misogyny, class, sexuality, sexual harassment, unbalanced ratios of which sex receives more funding etc. I think to be reminded of some of those realities in the beginning of the session, allowed me to further contribute throughout the day. A common question, worded in various ways, asked what constitutes a leader. From this, I ask how many people is one expected to lead before they are given the title of leader? Or, when was the last time one had to lead someone else to be considered an active leader? These questions led to “what does a female leader look like?” and “what is expected of a female leader?” — When those questions were put under the microscope, I was saddened to hear that some people suggested that women should lose their emotions. Whilst to some extent I do agree that we should not take our insecurities to work, I do not believe that women should be forced to adopt a masculine, alpha female attitude that objectifies them in order to gain superior position. Nor should we “grow some balls”. I had to bring up gender because it is probably the most prominent frame when it comes to asking questions about power and representation. You only need to look at some of the performance works below to see that, or if you want some heavy reading, search Judith Butler’s work.

Attending this event highlighted some of the conversations that needs to take place and I am inspired by the women who have already taken action to ensure they are seen and heard. Devoted and Disgruntled was also a strong reminder that each and every person sees the world through their own lens. Moreover, terms like representation, class, gender, and leader can be redefined infinitum, depending on the context in which they are situated.  Key take as a qualitative researcher; ALWAYS be absolutely clear about context, self and subjectivity.

I cried because I had no shoes until

Performers Izumi Ashizawa, Matthew Austin and sound artist Chris Jones gave a poignant performance of “I cried because I had no shoes until…” The work was built from Japanese Bunraku, Kabuki and puppetry. I absolutely received the voyeuristic undertone of some of the work, such as when the male character was photographing the woman wearing the red shoes. She removed the shoes and he lost his fixation with her and was clearly more excited about the shoes. Another moment that really stood out was when the male performer wore the red shoes as he fought with a traditional style army boots, as worn by the hands of Izumi. To me, this was his fight with the pressures of masculinity. The sheer amount of shoes on stage was also thought provoking in that it highlighted how much of our gendered identity is attached to clothing / footwear. Finally, the trussed up shoes, first pulled across the stage and then hung from the ceiling was very effective. It acted as a trigger point, a reminder of the weight and burden we carry through object attachment.

Smashed by Gandini Juggling

Smashed by Gandini Juggling was a hypnotically beautiful piece of theatre that built up from a space of calm to complete chaos. The juggling of apples, plates and even a newspaper was effortlessly displayed in a variety of formation, textures and intention. Like the previously mentioned work by Izumi, this work also had undertones and gestures of gendered expectation. The seven male jugglers sat down near the back of the stage as the two female performers crawled past them twice. The first time the men worked in a slow juggling rhythm whilst letting the apples contact the body of the women. The second time was different; the women put the apples in their mouth, as though the apple was a gag, before repeating the crawl past the feet of the men. The men became excited and erratic in their manipulation of the apples. The structure of the movement remained the same, but the increased speed exhibited their excitement.

The final work I saw was Wicked Women, a fantastic piece of street theatre, performed by 14 women, directed by Elinor Randle. Each member of the company each played a powerful woman from history. I was pleased that Frida Kahlo was acknowledged as she is one of my all-time favourite artists. Other influential women include Queen Elizabeth, Maria Callas, Emmeline Pankhurst, and Amelia Earhart. The clever direction of audio and visual cues throughout the 20 minute work fluidly flipped historical / current moments, making the performance content accessible and relatable for all audiences. This piece taught me more about determined, strong and persistent women than I ever would have learned in a history class. Absolutely brilliant work from everyone involved.

Thanks to the superheroes, Eli, Claire and the rest of the team, who worked so hard to put such a thought provoking event together.

I’ll be back next week with more to share, but in the meantime, you can see my daily updates by following me on InstagramTwitter or Facebook

Rowena x