Saturday, February 6, 2016

Live Arts Festival: Untitled Feminist Show

By Wendy Rosenfield. Young Jean Lee's Theater Company offers Untitled Feminist Show, featuring Becca Blackwell, Katy Pyle, Regina Rocke, Jen Rosenblit, Amelia Zirin-Brown aka Lady Rizo, for Philadelphia's Live Arts Festival and Philly Fringe.

Live Arts Festival: Untitled Feminist Show


By Wendy Rosenfield

It’s been an enlightening experience, seeing Charlotte Ford’s Bang at this year’s Live Arts Festival, and then, a week later, taking in Young Jean Lee Theater Company’s Untitled Feminist Show. Both feature naked women of childbearing age with average- to above-average proportions dancing, mugging, confronting the audience, and generally having a great time in their own skin.

But that’s not all they have in common. Both forego a linear storyline for alternating collaborative and individual vignettes, with feminism and its emphasis on community built into the performances’ very structure. It’s almost as though Bang functions as a warmup for Untitled Feminist Show. The themes examined there get bigger and bolder under Lee and company’s direction, and despite an absence of dialogue (unless you count two songs, one in Welsh and the other whose lyrics are “LaLaLa”) its message comes across loud and clear. This is Lee’s second Live Arts Festival entry--the first was 2007‘s Songs of Dragons Flying to Heaven, about Asian-American identity--and she approaches gender and ideas of femininity with a similar wry humor.

Its six performers--Becca Blackwell, Katy Pyle, Regina Rocke, Jen Rosenblit and Amelia Zirin-Brown--come in varying sizes, races and gender identifications, and dance themselves into spread-eagled tableaux beneath flickering videos of brightly colored abstractions, all to sound design that travels from pastoral classical to Royksopp’s electronica. 

The ensemble upends sexual fantasies with pantomimed sex acts that end badly for the recipient or bodies that literally become housecleaning machines, and a no-contact vibrating orgy sends one of its participants oscillating into the audience, transforming it into her own personal mosh pit. Each twist in the production reveals another take on female identity, as does each performer and each tattooed, pierced, cellulited, and/or muscled form. This is one time when it's okay to stare; in fact, it's just about impossible to look away.

Sept. 19-21, 9 p.m., Suzanne Roberts Theatre, 480 S. Broad St.

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About this blog

Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of five books about modern and contemporary drama, and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). She was recently named by American Theatre magazine "one of the twelve most influential critics in America."

Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.

Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.

Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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