To spark discussion, the Walker invites local artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, Elliott Durko Lynch shares their perspective on Thursday night’s “(M)imosa” by Trajal Harrell, Cecilia Bengolea, François Chaignaud, and Marlene Monteiro Freitas . Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!
I’m writing as a representative of the local live news-magazine Salon Saloon, hosted by Andy Sturdevant, which I work on as a technical producer at Minneapolis’ Bryant-Lake Bowl. For five years I have also been on the technical production team of Dykes Do Drag, which also is produced at the BLB five times a year; in the Theater booth my alias is “Diethyl Mercury.”
Excerpted from below:
Appendix B. Required reading for (M)imosa…
1. At the very least see Paris is Burning or, at bare minimum, watch this clip on “reading.”
3. Read the supplied program notes.
4. Visit http://genderqueerid.com or do some Google or Tumblr searches for genderqueer, gay, drag… improvise.
5. Read these two articles about the NEA Defunding Crisis and Gay Performance Art and representation in the 1990s:
Preaching to the Converted (1995) by Tim Miller & David Roman, Theatre Journal
Have You Heard the One about the Lesbian Who Goes to the Supreme Court?: Holly Hughes and the Case Against Censorship (2000) by Richard Meyer, Theatre Journal
Let’s just say it, drag shows are hard to make happen; all those microphones need to actually work, every act needs to have just the right kind of microphone stand for their persona, someone awesome needs to be there to make sure those items and other props get to the right place onstage, and if possible everyone should get along. In the end, these shows are all fabulous and acts tend to include a few key elements (there are quite a few that happen in Minneapolis, see below) ; let’s make an informal list of what they include:
- Play with representation & the act of becoming,
- Performed play with sexuality,
- Play with gender expression and realness, (may it be butch, Femme, or something in between, or poking out either end.)
What these drag shows do not include is lenience in duration. If there are 26 acts, then each of those acts have to deliver and be ready to go out onstage right on time. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not throwing shade (or whatever catch word Buzzfeed wants me to say today) at our beloved (M)imosas. Let’s be more specific, it was very “Judson” or “post-modern” of (M)imosas to embrace duration and time. Some other PoMo dance choices included that the piece:
- utilized desyncronisation & competition between disparate acts or elements,
- dropped theatrical edifice and spectacle for sometimes ‘low’ acts and elements,
- included agitational experiences and elements which lasted sometimes for long periods of time.
The event clocked in just a few minutes shy of the runtime of Lincoln. I respect the choice to embrace time. The multi-simulacra encrusted, remix embedded, (M)imosa (which, as mentioned in the show, “is also a cheap kind of cheese with a cow with large udders on the label”) was a presentation which schizophrenically embraced elements of Judson-style post-modern, contemporary dance and of Paris is Burning without much social commentary. Lets face it, I had a great time, but the casual non-commentary was where I was challenged as a viewer.
While I appreciated the formal stylistic investigation and many of the performance treats that I experienced (see the shortlist below), I was surprised and somewhat disappointed that the genderqueer body was invoked lightly during this performance. My Theater Arts B.A. taught me to evaluate performance based on how it “effectively challenges people to ask questions.” Perhaps as a genderqueer artist in America where political viewpoints are so polarized, I prefer an overtly subversive political agenda in work that invokes the genderqueer body. At the drag shows I see locally, it still is a challenge to be who you are, especially onstage sometimes. Don’t get me wrong now, play is always good, and sure gender expression is invoked lightly very often in subversive, (or not so subversive) drag acts all over the place, and in mainstream culture (Drag Race has been on television for many years, cosplayers are dragging characters at conventions and on their Tumblr feeds, and Lady Gaga had that “bro” persona for a while). But 30 years after Paris is Burning, being transgender, genderqueer, or anything other than a cisgender heteronormative white male or female is still something of a revolutionary daily act.
Consider how earnestly the film was referenced in the title of (M)imosa. I walked into the theater with the expectation that the piece may carry the discursive socio-political responsibility when Drag was inside the “High” frame of the “High Art” theater. However, with so much weight placed on Judson-style choices like duration, a disruptive flattening of spectacular and celebratory acts (mics going out, competition, consistent interruption by another performer), it felt like the genderqueer body, though highly prevalent onstage, seemed less important. Especially because the historical cultural document Paris Is Burning was implicated as a source for this work without directly talking at all about race, class, sex workers, ACT UP, or the AIDS crisis.
In that way (M)imosa seems to overlook that not everyone has been converted to informed liberal members of the contemporary dance in-crowd; or perhaps the in-crowd was their target audience and they didn’t feel they needed to inform. That “preaching to the converted” sensibility lowered the stakes quite a bit for me over time. It reminded me that these personae do not exist on stages or in documented history alone. Genderqueer and non-cisgendered people are people in the world today. Gender expression is not something that everyone puts on and takes off, as Drag. We haven’t gotten out of the woods yet people, especially between the coasts, and the presence of the genderqueer body onstage is still an act of defiance against those who would seek to qualify the genderqueer or non-heteronormative as deviant and obscene.
There were temporary sections during the performance when celebration of gender and sexuality seemed like the most important thing (again, see below), and they were some of my favorite moments. I was teased in the final House of Labeija-esque monologue by the recoding of the phrase “the legendary children.” In my read, it was inclusive of the artists onstage turning the gaze upon the audience and specifically the dance “in crowd.” Though, with so much stage-gazing who did they expect to see in Minneapolis, Steve Paxton? Perhaps aligning Judson with the Drag Balls was to point towards the current dance scenes impending cultural cliff from cliché to archetype. After all, voguing was appropriated into a mainstream form, it can’t be long before Sarah Michelson contemporary dance moves are incorporated into a new music video for a song by Madonna or Rihanna. Surely then, that Authentic Movement wouldn’t be real like a Gucci bag… remember? “When you go to buy real shit, you need to bring real shit.” At least that’s what I took away from that monologue.
Thoroughly enjoyed the performance, and the thought process that ensued. Thank you!
Appendix A. My Short-List of Keepers:
a. The “no to spectacle” loud sound, solo opening section
b. “You can fuck, but first you must fuck me”
c. The Portugal story
d. The soul song vs. opera number
e. Fantastic day glo-socks
f. The big ballet number
g. “I Love Purple”
h. “Darling Nikki”
i. Kate Bush (though I hear this was stolen from a local performance at “Pegasus” jk. )
Appendix B. (at top of article)
Appendix C. Local Live Drag Shows, Homegrown Drag somewhere other than at the Gay 90s.
1. Sequin Sundays every week at the Townhouse
3. Minneapolis Burlesque Festival January 31st at the Ritz Theater
4. Watch some Eddie Izzard on Netflix.
Elliott Durko Lynch