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"Fill in the Blank" Preview
ROSIE TRUMP WITH OR WITHOUT DANCE
April 14th, 2016
The Political season is upon us, and choreographer Rosie Trump will provide her own social criticism with a jestful touch in her deftly crafted Fill in the Blank. Most language around what used to be called "women’s issues" has been neutered as of late – unequal pay for women is now called the "pay gap," abortion issues are now "women's health" issues – Trump is masterful a playing with language, using dance to slyly annotate public speech.
"______ Full of Women," Trump's first piece of the evening, riffs off of 2012 Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney's notorious comment that he had "binders full of women" (he was trying to explain his process of interviewing candidates for positions in his cabinet). In a voiceover recording, Trump runs through a long list of variations on the phrase ("massage parlors full of women," "libraries full of women," "phone booths full of women," and so on), read in a computer-generated voice. Laura Gutierrez dances solo to this score, with results that are witty, smart, and ultimately devastating. Against this absurdist laundry list, placing women into spaces both mundane and pointed ("voting booths full of women"), Gutierrez moves her body in small, rhythmic, jerky phrases, as if being manipulated by some outside force, tugging her body parts with an invisible string. After an escalation of these repetitions, she finds small islands of stillness, re-centering. Those punctuations of stillness, like a destabilized tightrope walker having to find her balance, reminded me of the daily reconstitutions of composure a woman must perform, as her personal space is invaded by unwanted intrusions – that cat-call on the street, someone pushing in too close on the subway, the belittling comment tossed off in the work meeting. Ta Nehisi Coates has written eloquently of the ways racism is felt in the body, not just the mind – it's true of sexism as well, and the sense of embodied empathy Gutierrez creates on stage is riveting.
This probably makes the piece sound "heavier" than it is – Trump's sense of timing in the piece is fundamentally comic. In her second section, she again builds up from pedestrian movement, mashing it up against the gestural. Using the dance prop of the chair, dancers move and reconfigure furniture on stage, sometimes in solo and sometimes in a group of three. The dancers reposition the chairs, and fold their bodies into shapes that recall chairs – turning themselves, temporarily, into utilitarian platforms, or decorative adornments of space. The fact that the dancers are all women making these adjustments and impersonations of inanimate objects makes the activity seem sharply gendered. One of the most physically satisfying moments is when a dancer levitates the chairs and they become wings flapping in space.
Trump's work sneaks up on you – framed as comedy, executed with the hint of a raised eyebrow, the messages eventually work their way through the repetitions and variations. I was enjoying the theatrical staging, or the musical rhythm, the clever use of collage – and then found myself thinking: wait, what was I doing in my late 20s? How short is the professional life of a dancer, the reproductive life, how quickly does the narrowing and policing of our choices enter into the ways we define ourselves? And how much of that narrowing and regulation comes through violence, or the constant threat of violence? In the end, Trump's work is a real artistic achievement, and offers up the best of what dance theater can do – giving critical voice to the forces that shape our lives, and bringing textual intelligence together with corporeal intelligence in ways that make her insights cut deeper by connecting the mind and body.
Fill in the Blank will premiere: May 20-21, 2016 at Sugar Space in Salt Lake City, UT.