Perhaps it’s the anxiety of this tumultuous election that is pushing feminists’ unfinished business vehemently into the cross fires of not only headlines, but also making a mark in the art world. Just take a look at the success of Sheila Callaghan’s “Women Laughing Alone With Salad” or Young Jean Lee’s “Straight White Men,” which both manage to forge new territory in feminist discourse and female-empowered storytelling. Now, you can add the Bessie award-winning dance performance “Girl Gods” by the Pat Graney Company to the list. Presented at REDCAT in downtown LA, a space that’s known for its progressive curation and cultural engagement, “Girl Gods” ran Nov. 3 through 6.
The show is constructed as a series of tableaus featuring five women performers, a coven that bands together on an emotional journey. In the opening scene, a woman tediously carries a wobbling teacup and saucer towards a tunnel of light. She’s determined, yet cautious, to complete her mission, as she poetically carries the weight of what it means to be a woman. It’s a heavy weight to bear alone, and she’s soon joined by four women that share this same struggle. Together, they form an unbreakable bond that has the same motivational “go girl” sentiment of Beyoncé’s hive. That’s not to say the road is smooth like a perfect pinot grigio. In fact, there’s a lot of kinetic rage suppressed in the female soul that finally feels free to let loose on stage. And that’s the power of Pat Graney’s direction: She creates a safe haven where women can be themselves.
Each scene explores a different archetype and the woman’s desire to break that mold society has put them in. At times the women possess the seduction of a muse or spiritual healer. Dressed in all white, they move with a mature self-awareness, projecting their bodies like Greek statues. In another scene, two women in matching red dresses explode in synchronized, seizure-like movements, screaming until they tire themselves. Stories unfold in a glimpse. It’s clear each scene shares the same intention, but the narrative arch between the stories is tenuous. From what I gleaned, that intention is to take back the female identity that has been dictated by society’s pressure to conform. They exercise their rights through physical catharsis, ceremonies, kitsch and even comedy. There’s some critical theory at work, but no doubt, you will be entertained.
Stage design features a towering wall of custom-made boxes, which serves as the backdrop for a recurring video vignette and as an interactive unit for the performers. As with most contemporary theater, the inclusion of media — in this case, a video of a woman under water — is visually enchanting. But the chosen imagery seemed too obvious — an unnecessary layer that I could have done without. Intermittently, black sand filters through a crack, spilling like an hourglass onto the floor.
During the final scene, the spilling-sand motif is integrated into the dance. A performer fiercely pushes the sand across the stage and her tribe joins, transforming the sand into a Japanese Zen garden as a woman in corpse pose lays at the center. Flowers are scattered around each sand circle, the lighting dims, and it feels like a burial, a cult circle or a lunar meditation. Wherever the women are, they are together, at peace, and everything looks dreamy.
—Natalie Kessel, Culture Spot LA
For information about upcoming shows at REDCAT, visit https://www.redcat.org.