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Review

Turn Me Inside Out

Rock Bottom Movement’s fantasylover brandishes a feminist awareness with a self-aware wink By Jillian Groening
  • Drew Berry, Mary-Dora Bloch-Hansen and Natasha Poon Woo in Martin's fantasylover / Photo by Francesca Chudnoff

Once upon a time, in a land not so far away, there existed an unusual utopia.

And in this surreal land of chartreuse haze and synthesizer hums, there are five humans: each anchored by distinct gestures, each body buzzing with pop culture characterization and each individual active in the retelling of their liberation.

Choreographed by Alyssa Martin, Rock Bottom Movement’s new premiere, fantasylover, picks through the polished veneer of heteronormative fairy-tale romance sold to eager young women by rich old men. From the capitalist machines behind every beloved Hollywood romcom and lotion-endorsing Olympic athlete, to the grand maestro of theatre in the Western canon, Mr. Shakespeare himself, Martin revisits locations of gendered disillusionment to construct her own tale of feminized bodies in media. The result is an undulating, oozing and vibrant neon palace of desire and independence.

fantasylover begins with an astral purr. Musician and thespian Sydney Herauf sits stage right in the glow of a MacBook with a mixer beside her bright yellow lap. Four dance artists breeze onto the purple-lit stage moving in stiff mannequin-like motions. Performers Drew Berry, Mary-Dora Bloch-Hansen, Samantha Grist and Natasha Poon Woo enter the space ensnared in various manifestations of a distorted feminine. Bloch-Hansen tiptoes while moving jerkily through sculptural Grecian poses; Poon Woo mimics the petticoated baroque steps of early ballet; Grist shifts across the floor with a tongue-in-cheek postmodern smugness; Berry glides in presenting the Vaseline teeth of the nation’s ice rink sweetheart.

Symphonic music floats through the full theatre, and the four individuals look out at the audience with starry-eyed expectation, holding hands like medal-bearing champions. The folks on the ends have gnarled fingers, a glimpse at the tension behind their proud sternums and forced fifth positions.

Suddenly, the constraints of genre, gender and form gripping the performers begin to crumble. The line of “muses” sink into their own gloriously silly experiences of a dissolving feminine mould. All four dancers wear socks and vivid lime bodysuits, which nod to the uniform of perm-haired mothers who spent nap time sweating through Jane Fonda VHS home workouts. The costuming de-glamorizes the body while allowing the minimal costuming to act as a vehicle in witnessing the performers’ strength and agility.

fantasylover breaks free from the stereotypes of fetishized female bodies in media and pop culture by embracing, consuming and vomiting up destructive tropes with the rigour of famous outdoorsman Bear Grylls (host of the television show Man vs. Wild) realizing he has eaten poisonous berries. The full-length work oscillates between narrative scenes and abstracted movement and voice sequences featuring the performers speaking, singing and gyrating in a hybridization of dance, theatre and comedy that sees Martin manipulating a history constructed by the male gaze. Her reclaiming is an empowered crotch shot to the face of patriarchy.

Herauf appears to conduct the world of fantasylover from her site on the stage, lending a comforting, omnipresent female narration to odes (a subversion of their original male writer) and composing sonic collages that reflect and strengthen fantasylover’s reference-heavy movement. Coursing throughout the interlacing performance assemblages are themes of unattainable ideals, territorial pissing and engorged toxic masculinity, commodification of romance, the feminization of environmental politics and the generational struggles of women encountering independence.

“I’m always connected to someone else. What am I? A rope?” Berry as Tessa Virtue yells as she works to establish her own footing and solo career separate from her skating partner, Scott Moir. The line resonates like a gun shot in the night. Threads of women bound to their partners, their fathers, their jobs, due to financial stability, social capital, survival. “Drink your Canadian milk, girls! How do you like them Beavertails?” Berry hollers. It’s hard not to notice the comfort of the theatre seat and the warmth of a receptive audience.

In fantasylover, Tessa Virtue is skating towards world domination one Nivea commercial at a time. Grist as Nikkole, lost in the outback and sending her love through the moon, gets the callback she was wishing and waiting for. Poon Woo as Ferdinand, King of Navarre, finds love in a tree named Joan. Bloch-Hansen as Annie Lennox is the last one standing in a brutal sword fight to the death. The various narratives fold together, meeting at a final singalong to Lennox’s Why, during which the performers jeté, fouetté, shimmy and stand in stillness with intense and beautiful conviction.  

“And this is how I feel.
Do you know how I feel?
’Cause I don’t think you know how I feel.”
Blackout darkness blends with the audience clapping.

Martin’s rich dissection of the female experience is vulnerable and resonant. Together with her collaborators, she is able to reclaim dreams.

~

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