Jun. 9th, 2013

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Neck-deep in Continuum. Going well so far. You should all go read N. K. Jemisin's inspiring Guest of Honour speech, calling for a Reconciliation in SFF. It gave me goosebumps.

Last night, A. and I went to the theatre.

The play was On the Bodily Education of Young Girls, part of Melbourne Theatre Company's NEON programme of independent theatre.

It opens with a young ballerina entering a darkened stage, stretching, then playing a sad melody on a piano. The lights come up. Other young ballet students enter, dressed in white, going through their exercises. A new pupil arrives. The other girls surround her, comb her hair, dress her. She starts to copy their exercises. Two teachers watch them, but remain aloof. After a game of tag, the young girls dress up in historical costumes and act out bloody pantomimes of execution, amputation, and mass murder. The pantomimes are packed away. The girls retreat. An old woman who has been watching from the sidelines steps forward and performs a fluid dance as the lights fade away.

All of this performed without dialogue.

The play was dreamlike, cryptic. Stripped of dialogue and plot, the play leaves a vast space for the audience to create their own interpretations.

It was based on the 1908 novella Mine-Haha or On The Bodily Education of Young Girls, by the German playwright Frank Wedekind. The novella is a parable about a hermetic school where the girls study ballet and biology during the day, and at night perform in gory pantomimes for paying audiences.

It's tempting, therefore, to think this play is about looking at young women: about the way they are viewed, and the contortions and roles they are forced to perform to make themselves pleasing to look at.

But there's more to it than that. The silence of the actors and their minimal facial expressions pose the question: who are these young women? What are their thoughts and feelings?

Director Adena Jacobs said in an interview: "I think there is an erotic undercurrent, but it's not one that I'm personally interested in [...] I think the erotic is something we assume about young girls, and it's sort of unfair and deprives them of the depth that they have."

On Twitter, I commented that this play starts out David Hamilton and ends up Marat/Sade.

It was a fairly flippant comment: true, perhaps, but only on the surface level. It's taken some more reading and some thinking overnight for me to appreciate the depths underneath.

(I also commented on Twitter that I really enjoyed the play, but teenaged me would have been obsessed with it: Surrealism. Death. Sad girls in white. And one of the actresses looks like Nastassja Kinski.

I was far too shy and awkward to talk to actual girls at that age, and so my fantasises ended up not unlike my surface reading of this play, where overly pretentious romanticisation substituted for lack of understanding.)


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