December 7, 2019
For two weeks THE FUTURE IS F*E*M*A*L*E* transformed Berlin’s Sophiensaele into a Feminist-Utopian community for all. The festival created a platform for Berlin-based and international artists, inviting them to examine feminist issues and related topics.
I caught two of the many and varied shows on December 7th The publicity for Caroline Creutzburg’s Woman With Stones referred to a confusion of fluid identities and materialities. It was certainly born from many different inputs including impressions on nature, surroundings, the mudflat, the anthill, mimesis, fiction-meditation, glamorous and trashy divas, rose-coloured marble eggs, Japanese voguing, and self-invented character miniatures.
The fictional character of the piece comes out at the beginning when the five performers set a conversation between themselves that shifts from non-sensical to sensical. Humorous too. Characters move through the space sliding like worms going backwards, endlessly changing direction throughout the performance. The repetitive, stretched movements at an extra-slow pace are not structured enough to hold the attention. There are moments that are funny and well-executed however, one such being their chewing big gum, building to a trashy and disgusting crescendo while they stare at the audience.
It’s not clear what the title refers to. There are no actual stones but is it a metaphor for the burden that women have been dragging for ever? Perhaps. The texts recited and projected on two screens are mostly very abstract. Questions by Janelle Monàe are repeated several times: Why are you looking at me now? Why are you looking at me again? What if I pulled my teeth? Cut my hair underneath my chin? It’s all very enigmatic, lively and hilarious moments mixed with some that are rather more monotonous. While the performers were fully engaged and convincing, I didn’t find it the bewitching spectacle the programme claimed. Overall the work struggled rather, being weak on complexity and appeal.
i ride in colours and soft focus, no longer anywhere by Last Yearz Interesting Negro is an interesting stratification of piercing images in movement. A compelling dimly-lit set where sporadic lights unveil the stage, create a scenario of unexpected moments. The 90-minute piece has an organic yet surprising structure. Videos of performer Jamila Johnson-Small sometimes disjoint while others multiply as she dances, staring at the audience in an intimate conversation.
The dark set suggests an underground club fleshed out with stroboscopic lights. The changes of scene and scatty movements through the busy space generate a very intriguing narrative. Bouncy movements follow a soft and slow pace intro in the darkness. Johnson-Small’s silhouette becomes more visible when edgy and fast lines start defining the space. Slowly she increases the level of stamina and the motion of her thin but strong body become tense and virtuosic.
One scene sees her dance in a stroboscopic light that becomes a cage where she seems to be trapped, ending up in a sort of trance. Exiting that space, she moves towards the audience breaking those imaginary boundaries set in every theatre. Getting closer and closer to the spectators her movements become more fluid and intimate as she shares with us her vulnerability and sorrows. She appears as a warrior, yet one persecuted by persistent and poignant thoughts. There is a reference to decolonisation, a force that pushes her to keep fighting.
Very strong moments align with loud techno-bass music to create an immersive setting; one that is even more so at the end, when, with some spectators gathered around her, she tells a story and some personal fantasies. It’s the story about the grief after the death of her father, how she embodied him through her love for him. She uses words that resonate in the spectators’ minds through the whole piece and afterwards as a would be mantra. As empathetic witnesses we look at her poignant catharsis. It is moving, engaging and penetrating.