Untitled Feminist Show, Baryshnikov Arts Center, New York

Experimental theatre director Young Jean Lee has a reputation for sending issues that any self-respecting liberal assumes he has a handle on in squirm-inducing directions. But Untitled Feminist Show is less a thought-provoking trap than a taste of utopia.

“I wanted to make a show that was feminist, not a show about feminism”, Lee, 37, has said. “Feminist” turns out to mean six women from the diverse worlds of cabaret, modern dance and burlesque appearing buck naked. After the initial shock, matters of self-presentation and self-camouflage rushed to mind, without any clothes to diffuse them. You noticed which performer forgot they were naked, who revelled in it, who interred herself in her flesh.

Several numbers in this wordless, dancey revue – scenes changed with the music, from Mozart to head-banger metal – seemed to be premised on the question: “What would women’s pleasure look like if they enjoyed what they are presumed to – doing the laundry, turning men to stone?” Witchy, twinkly Amelia Zirin-Brown, for example, pointed to individual audience members to signal “This is for you”, before launching into an elaborate, ambiguous and gleeful pantomime. Was she brushing her teeth or fellating someone? Cleaning a drain or sticking her hand somewhere else? And which option would be more fun?

The performers also raged heroically, frolicked Isadorably, and slunk from mood to mood. When the dancers moved, animation drained from their faces into their bodies. The actors used movement as a story to wrap themselves in, a magic cape that caused characters to materialise. Only the burlesque dancer, World Famous BOB – with her conventionally sexy if outsized voluptuousness – did not inhabit her body. When it was her turn in the spotlight, her comrades became sentinels around her, as if to protect her from our desolation at her vacancy.

BOB was the exception that proved the rule. In the “titled” real world, we are expected to play up or down our endowments according to their current value. In Untitled Feminist Show, the women do not have “endowments”, they have bodies, which never lose touch with their person.

Until February 4 as part of PS 122’s Coil Festival


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