London, The Place
6 March 2018
Splendid and colourful in her loose pink onesie, Amy Bell inhabits the huge, bare stage alone. Moving and talking in a friendly, conversational tone however, she puts everyone at ease. Her monologue, nuanced with wit and sincerity describes her gender fluid vision for the show, for contemporary dance, her fluctuating identity shifts and her predictions for a future which will accommodate everything. The Forecast is a delightful, sprawling tapestry of metaphors in which Bell exposes gender mayhem through the spoken and gestural language of weather reporters. She graphically embodies her text with subtle pedestrian gestures, wild gesticulations, deep belly sounds and dance vocabulary which enables her to swim freely through some complex material.
In the opening scene, Bell apologises for her new haircut which she says has Martina Navratilova undertones but confidentially promises that it is a work ‘in progresses’ as is the rest of her body. “Watch this space” is a recurring refrain which she delivers as she gestures towards herself; followed by “and watch this space” as she points vaguely at the theatre surrounding her.
Stepping out of her pink onesie she sports a pink lycra unitard covered with black hand marks. Referring to this costume as if it were a map (which her mum had made in 1996 in proud dance-mum fashion), she touches the different regions of her body, forecasting how they might change in the future, through ageing or surgical intervention. She’s endearingly comical as she conflates autobiographical information with absurdly funny calculations about her own identity flux and what might happen in a utopian world of changing gender landscapes: will she truly be able to embody masculinity and still be a real woman? What is it to dance like a lesbian or acquire a new sexual organ?
Throughout the solo she tests out various narratives of doing and unmaking identity through choreography, images and text. She’s as articulate with her body as she is with her words. In a mock-up of a technique class she dances flowing routines to the voice-over of a teacher who replaces balletic French terms with queer terminology: “sink into a stone butch” or “releve into a pillow queen”. As she skilfully executes some complex technical phrases, she looks out at her audience, bemused.
Hetain Patel’s animation, a digital body projected onto both Bell and the cyclorama, or an absurdly giant hand that looms over her head, or recedes away from her, visually shapes the show and effectively contributes to its porous messages.
Towards the end of The Forecast, as the stage darkens, she removes her costume and stands naked in a spot light against the back wall, like Botticelli’s Venus, lost at sea in a state of transcendence. Crouching over she teeters on demi point from stage left to stage right as if searching for something, while casting us nervous glances. Her body in the light looks androgynous; a neutral canvas on which a range of identities could be enacted. She finds a long-haired Mullet wig and jeans and tentatively puts both on. Her hesitation and ambivalence is fascinating. Once semi-clothed she swaggers and guffaws like a thug but abruptly stops this act in disgust.
Next, she adds rock-star glasses and nipple tassels to counteract the macho, metal-head look, and starts to indulge in an ambiguous state of in-betweeness. Camille Saint-Saens’ familiar music Le Cygne begins and Bell reinterprets the dying swan as the queer body. Brilliantly alternating between soft, graceful, undulating arms and powerful, grounded gestures she dances across boundaries and codes in a triumphant imagining of what fluidity of gender really means.
Bell’s brave work although addressing us all in our fluctuating states of being, speaks out especially to queer women, non-binary and trans people. Sensitively she highlights the absence of their presences in contemporary dance and the uncertainty of language to express their needs. Her warm and generous performance persona enables her to fly with such musings free of dogma or defensiveness. With a final quiet “watch this space”, she leaves the dimming, smoke-filled stage queered and questioning.
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