GenderFantasy: A live review

GenderFantasy rehearsal photo by Wayne Bund.

My first thought upon leaving Kaj-Anne Pepper‘s first full length dance and performance art piece GenderFantasy was: “How in the hell do you clean that much glitter from beneath a foreskin?”

And though that question may be 70% joke, it actually says a lot about the absurd vs. mundane that GenderFantasy embodies so well. The piece, featuring 3 dancers in addition to Pepper, Lillian Rosetti, Michael Zero Reed, and Keyon Gaskin, begins with dancing you might recognize as current and, though I hesitate to say familiar, at least recognizable. But  the movements go beyond what we would generally call contemporary dance. Mostly this technique works, although occasionally I did wish for some longer stretches of repetition and synchronicity. And yet somehow, though you might not enjoy or be be comfortable with every dance, it does make a beautiful and interesting whole.  

The ultimate mashup, Pepper’s choreography manages to pack in the multitude of gender performance and perception in bites so tiny you’re not exactly sure what you’re seeing enacted. From giggling to grunting to throwing a make believe ball it takes us a split second longer to gender the actions in our heads, just enough time to realize the ridiculousness of what our brains just did to these movements and sounds.

Raijah Antoinette‘s costuming is simple yet inspired. Blackened arms and messy makeup that smears as the show goes on, contrast with the sparkly patches of glitter to make a striking confusion of  ugly and pretty. And the liquid latex that acts as skin, literally peeled off, makes a perfect metaphor that is just the right amount of obvious.The black spandex bottoms and strapless bra-like tops are pretty much matching but only serve to highlight the dancers’ differences. You wonder if the casting of 3 “men” and 1 “woman” was a conscious choice for the piece or shaped its creation.

But the difference is never more stark than in the scene lacking Rosetti but not lacking plenty of nudity. Dance is already so much about the body, but Pepper, Reed and Gaskin take it to the next level by actually making their genitals actors in the show. Mirroring the song they sing about otherness (yes, I’m talking about the Little Mermaid) the 3 go back and forth between hiding and exposing themselves, thereby making themselves “female” then “male” then back again. All the while it raises the question of whether they can ever fit either and whether it is worth the extreme effort to try. Hiding their junk with their bodies or literally holding it back with their hands severely limits the movement of these feminized beings, even as the female body is conspicuously absent.

Their venue, the Headwaters, positioned at the northernmost point of town next to the train tracks, is the perfect intimate space to see GenderFantasy. At times my second row seat was a bit too aromatic, but even body odor only serves to further implicate how we perceive sexuality and gender. I’d love to see this space used more often for social gatherings and performance. Oh so artsy gritty. And as the lights rose I found myself sad that the fantasy was already over.

Lucky for you, you have three more chances to see the Fantasy as it continues its run tonight through Sunday at The Headwaters (55 NE Farragut). And if you still want more, check out our earlier interview with creator Kaj-Anne Pepper.

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