Exploring the Politics of Women's Bodies
by Pat Graney
at the Emerson Majestic Theatre
Pat Graney's new dance "Faith" attests to the power and mystique of women. Performed last weekend at Emerson Majestic Theatre in Boston, this piece offered the audience a variety of images of women, from the sultry harlot in a tight dress to the vulnerable nymph in the nude.
A mix of ancient Latin hymns, modern pop melodies and original music by Amy Denio and Rachel Warwick highlight these changing images.
Graney claims that the paintings of Caravaggio and Michelangelo, as well as the writings of Roshi Jiyu-Kennett of Shasta Abbey, inspired her to choreograph "Faith." Perhaps because of these visual and intellectual sources of inspiration, "Faith" seems more like a procession of portraits and ideas than a display of physical ability. Ultimately, the mood of the piece is so stagnant that Graney's greater message is lost.
The 75-minute piece opens with the seven women in the slinky velveteen dresses of costume designer Frances Kenny. With the help of Alexander Heddinger's eerie lighting, the women's bodies seem to glow from within. They glide solemnly across the stage, occasionally sinking to the floor or collapsing into one another's arms. Sometimes they pause in a dreamy tableaux, their arms reaching toward the heavens. At times, however, the religious motif becomes too heavy-handed, as when six women lift the seventh into a distinct crucifixion pose and walk reverently in a circle with her body.
Departing momentarily from the somber mood of the opening scene, the second section shows the dancers frolicking about the stage in white nightgown-like play suits with large red rubber balls. Although the music in this segment remains light-hearted and upbeat, the dancers' motions slow considerably: they drop to the floor, gently manipulating the balls over their bodies. This playful scene seems like an appropriate place for the women to display some of their acrobatic prowess, the Graney reverts to the earlier solemnity and deprives the audience of the energetic interlude it needs.
The sexual overtones of the second section do serve as a lead-in to the next, in which Graney explores women's roles as sex objects. No longer playful, the women now strut coolly about the stage in their tight velveteen dresses and red spike heels. The sexy entourage is periodically interrupted, however, by a woman who stumbles in her shoes, tugs at her dress, or collapses into a flailing tantrum. The women seem torn between the power of their sexual identity and the pain they must endure to maintain it.
"Faith" inevitably moves to an undaunted celebration of the woman's body. In the final scene, the women, now nude, recline sensually in heaps of flesh or depart from the group to reach again toward the heavens. In one particularly striking moment, the seven naked women stand in a line and walk directly toward the audience. They force us to confront their sexuality, saying "Here are our bodies."
The dance concludes with a lone nude dancer left vulnerably in the center of the stage. She is soon surrounded by her counterparts in their dresses and heels. The hardedged harlots do not overtake this divine image, however. Instead, they remove their pumps as the nude dancer rises from the floor, and all turn and walk upstage into the darkness.
Sponsored by the socially conscious Dance Umbrella, the Pat Graney Company offers an unmistakably political message in "Faith." The problem with this message, however, is that we've heard it all before: women must struggle to assert their own power and decide upon how far they will go to enhance their physical desirability.
Furthermore, although the slowly developing series of images proves an interesting form of modern dance, it is hardly engaging. The dancers' costumes may change from segment to segment, but their movements do not. Perhaps if endowed with more choreographic variety or shortened considerably. "Faith" could have proven more engrossing, and delivered a stronger message.