Sunday, 24 January 2010


22/1/10, Barbican

2 hrs 30 mins. Radical feminism revisited. This the one in which a bunch of female volunteers all take their clothes off and dance around the stage, while at the end female volunteers from the audience are encouraged to strip off and belt out Jerusalem. Two coups de theatre with undoubted impact, though the rest of this three-part exercise was a baffling mess.

I missed the start (work, traffic) and arrived 15 minutes in. Two actresses (performance artist Nic Green and her mate, Laura) were dancing vigorously on stage to loud music in the nude. I arrived just in time for coup no 1: the arrival of the volunteer naked dancers. I'd read somewhere that there were around 30 of them. And to begin with just a couple of dozen appeared. But then more joined them. And more. And yet more, all shapes and sizes and ages, all grinning broadly and clearly having a whale of a time. I estimate 200 or more. End of Part 1. I missed, I gather, the arrival of our two actresses (clothed), some video filmed in a supermarket and some other stuff which clearly hadn't made much sense to D and S and A and Dr T.
Part 2 was long and didn't make much sense either. Five dancers (four women, our two heroines, a tall well-built one and a fat one, and one man) moved rhythmically, chanted and, after a while, took their clothes off. A screen at the back showed two chunky extracts from Town Bloody Hall, the D A Pennebaker documentary film about a women's liberation meeting in New York in 1973 (?), chaired by Norman Mailer, at which the panellists included Germaine Greer. In the first extract the radical lesbian Jill Johnston delivered a sub Gertrude Stein monologue (poem?) full of wordplay and jokes until Mailer in brutal male chauvinist mode told her to stop because she'd exceeded her allotted time. The funniest joke in her tirade had apparently been censored, because the quality audio from the microphone suddenly dropped out, to be replaced by sound from an effects mic near the camera; needless to say, I couldn't catch it! In the second extract Germaine Greer gave a wry talk about the offensive idea of the make artist (plenty of cut aways of Mailer, at one point actually looking sheepish, or perhaps just smiling wrily). The act ended with the credits sequence from the film and our five actors sitting naked on stools with their backs to us, turning to make trivial observations about what we were watching: "Norman Mailer has just scratched his nose"; "the woman in the black dress is very excited", which pretty much summed up the style of the whole thing. At one point (after the actors had told us their ages -- they were all born in 1982 or 1983) we were told they wanted five volunteers from the audience, older, four women and one man. It occurred to me that our party fitted that bill, but mercifully no-one volunteered. Those who did volunteer, we thought, were plants who seemed to have rehearsed (they were asked to rotate one arm slowly backwards and then take 15 slow steps backwards across the stage).

Part 3 consisted of a "lecture" on Herstory by our Nic and Laura who (wouldn't you just know it) took their clothes off after a while. And at the end they invited women from the audience to come up for the Jerusalem sing-song, and loads (mainly young) did so. They went behind the curtain, disrobed, lined up and when the curtains opened sang to the accompaniment of an organ at the back of the stage! They looked to be having a wonderful time too.

So, what was it all about? Nic and Laura clearly think today's women have forgotten what their mothers and grandmothers struggled for, and that the women's movement needs to rediscover a radical edge. Clearly they also think the naked female body needs to be desexualised and freed from all the body fascism and unrealistic expectations that bedevil many younger women: hence the massed nudity, which certainly seemed to free the women taking part of embarrassment and self-consciousness about their bodies. But how did the rest of the evening contribute to the overall theme? Frankly, that one has me stymied.

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