Performing Gender gets under wayWed 6 December 2017
Part of: Performing Gender
It’s an exciting moment, when you’ve been planning and writing a project, to see it in action at last. So I was delighted to attend part of the second training week of the Performing Gender project in Bologna.
The week followed on from the Gender Bender festival, an established LGBT festival at which the Performing Gender artists had a chance to attend films, performances and workshops. During the first training week in October, the Performing Gender artists had taken part in the Festival of Women – a well-established feminist, multi-cultural arts festival – in Ljubljana.
The 5 artists selected to take part are incredibly different from each other. One is currently employed as a ballerina and one is the co-founder of a techno-burlesque collective. They range from their mid-twenties to mid-thirties. They’re all on different journeys in their exploration of gender and bring completely different cultural perspectives, from Japanese-Korean culture to Northern English working class. Still, the way they had bonded and shared each other’s perspectives was clear immediately in the sophisticated nature of their collective decision-making.
During the training weeks the artists receive input in the form of physical workshops, theoretical lectures and the so-called ‘local lived experience’. In Bologna, this included a positively provocative workshop run by Accaparlante, a group of disabled artists. It proposed tackling the discovery of one’s own body, its limits, pleasure and resources in radically different ways than we might encounter in ‘community dance’ in the UK.
At a meeting at the local MIT centre (one of the oldest organisations supporting transgender people and their rights) a young trans person asked a brilliant question: “Why are you doing this project, why can’t I make a dance about gender?”
There is inevitably a tension between being given so much input and then having to conduct your own movement research and present a sketch of work to an audience on the last day. The artists navigated this with intelligence and imagination; presenting their sketches in completely different ways, representing a richness of ideas, approaches and enquiry into gender.
It was clear from the audience response that much of the material had touched people and moved them in different ways. For me it was great to witness this Italian audience’s response, despite our messy dealing with the language barrier which I hadn’t quite anticipated! (Why, was I expecting everyone to speak English??)
I was struck by a young woman responding to the work by Sophie Unwin (the UK artist), speaking with such openness about how it had made her feel in her own body.
Sophie herself has passed on some reflections on her experience:
“The Performing Gender project is full of firsts for me; the first working experience outside of the UK, the first opportunity to work intensely and share a process with a group of artists, and the first time I have had the opportunity to really get my teeth into a subject matter and a process over an extended period of time- which feels like a luxury!
“What I am finding most fascinating is; negotiating, discussing and sharing practices and perspectives. I am in constant dialogue with each artist about their research, how they endeavour to make work and their geographical and cultural perspectives regarding gender, identity and performance. This is really enriching and something which is seeping into my research and thinking as a maker, a woman and a human being.
“Not only am I starting an investigation into gender and performance but I’m also thinking about how I choose to frame this research and how it’s shared, ‘viewed’ or interacted with by an audience. Who is it for? How can I disseminate and share my experiences? I’m also thinking about people- people I meet on the street, in the pub or in the post office que and I’m wondering whose voices are represented in performance. I’m also thinking about power, privilege and gender. I am reminded of Liz Lerman’s talk ‘Making Art In Restless Times’…
“I think there is a certain unease about discussing gender for a lot of people, and I feel very inspired and positive about having the platform and opportunity to have conversations with a variety of people with their own experiences, understanding and viewpoints- which differ from my own. These encounters are already impacting the way in which I experience the world and the questions I’m asking myself about who I am and the work I choose to make.”
Recently it seems like everything I read on social media or the news is somehow about gender: the Weinstein scandal, #metoo, the gender pay gap, suicide amongst young men, problems arising from hyper-masculinity and so on. So for me personally it is super inspiring to be digging under the surface of this topic and yet a teeny bit devastating to think just how little change we can effect on the scale that we are working.
All the more inspiration then to plan a brilliant training week here in Leeds and get as many people involved as possible. Watch this space!
Performing Gender will be in Leeds 25 May – 2 June with a public invitation to see the artists’ work on Friday 1 June at Yorkshire Dance.
For more information about the project including the artists and project partners www.performinggender.eu
The European dance project on gender and sexual orientation differences
Performing Gender – Dance makes a difference is a 2-year programme to provide European dance artists and professionals with knowledge, skills and tools to develop a new form of narrative for LGBT+ identities.