Between Women | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Between Women 

Sign up for our newsletters Subscribe

Love Bleeds Into Everything--We're Drowning at Night

Colleen Halloran Performance Group

at Link's Hall, September 18 and 19,

Pink Melon Joy

at Link's Hall, September 17 and 19

By Carol Burbank

These days everyone in the country seems obsessed with one question: What qualifies as sex? The political melodrama starring President Clinton applies conservatives' antigay, antiprivacy agenda to a powerful heterosexual. For some, bringing Clinton's schoolboy sex games out of the closet marks him as an untrustworthy deviant from the ideals of monogamy and the missionary position.

Welcome to the club, Mr. President. Many of us, gay and straight, have been forced to publicly misrepresent our erotic lives to survive in these times. And even the most open of us have been allowed to tell only part of the story--that is, the sex part. But sex stories merely titillate even as they bolster the walls of the far right's separatism, fostering the right's illusion of moral superiority. Very convenient.

Beyond the scenes with Monica and the guilty confessions that end with going straight (whatever that means), there's a more interesting deviance: deviance from a Father Knows Best right-wing fantasy. We don't have access to the daily negotiations between Hillary and Bill Clinton, but after years of powerful partnership, it's clear that something's working between them, despite or maybe because of the president's promiscuity.

If it's difficult to imagine an alternative marriage, it's even harder to comprehend gay and lesbian culture beyond the obvious sexual differences. The question "What qualifies as sex?" is just a smoke screen for the real question at the heart of current debates about sexuality: What qualifies as love?

The one-weekend Gerber/Hart Library and Archives' "Per4mance>fest<98" explored gay and lesbian life in four performances, two of which revealed that the lesbian answer to that question is lyrical and complicated. Although women's love for women has something to do with the anticipation of sexual union, it's clearly both more ordinary and more mysterious than that simple urge. Colleen Halloran's Love Bleeds Into Everything--We're Drowning at Night and Beatrice Bosco's production of Pink Melon Joy both celebrate the lesbian mind and spirit, but in their everyday practical and emotional details, not their "deviant" sexuality, offering an alternative to mainstream sensationalistic views.

The four sections that make up Halloran's dance piece explore the connections women forge in the complete absence of men. Although the dancers often move together with a focused tension that feels erotic, the defining aspect of their relationships is a female-centered power. Love Bleeds Into Everything straightforwardly displays the dancers' strength and independence in angular, controlled gestures that roll into the sweeping curves of athletic lifts and runs. Commanding the Link's Hall space, Halloran's blunt, plain movement adds up to an emotional narrative of women sufficient to themselves, offering an erotic subtext but no traditional erotic gestures.

Two dances focus on absence--even within a relationship. "Missing Something" shows two women who can't connect, moving together in choppy poses, nearly touching each other with caresses that seem experimental rather than passionate: dancers Keturah Marie Stickann and Becky Straub capture the tentative feeling of an ill-fated date or failing relationship. Mirroring each other's gestures without any heartfelt physicality but making intense, ambiguous eye contact throughout, the women echo the couplings of women in a gay bar, revealing a distinctly lesbian sensibility--they're equals approaching each other directly--though ultimately they form no connection.

"Still With Me," simply and eloquently danced by Margi Cole, shows the absence after a lover leaves. Cole dances as if with an invisible partner, looking intently into space or at the wall or a spot on the floor as if searching for something she's lost. This mourning dance seems more universal than "Missing Something," primarily because the lost lover is constructed by the audience. Nevertheless, the spareness of Halloran's gestures comes to seem secretive, as if the dancer's grief had collapsed into itself: Cole holds to the walls in a closeted stillness that sometimes spills into tight rolls and slow falls to the floor. This is a self-induced silence and containment.

After Halloran performs a clever but slight, seemingly unrelated solo, "Big Story (Me)," which combines running in place with a story about a disappointing relationship, three dancers perform "Drew Her In." More mature both in age and technique than the earlier dancers, Ann Boyd, Dardi McGinley-Gallivan, and Pam McNeil give this dance about power and seduction a brutal simplicity. Two of the women draw the third into their dance, in lifts and whirling gestures that turn suddenly into rejection. In the final lift, the two women hold the third aloft as if in flight, then rush her against a wall with a slap and a jolt, their strength suddenly menacing. Quickly exiting, the third woman leaves the other two to menace each other, as gestures that earlier seemed innocuous and abstract turn into an unsettling combination of predation and pleading.

Halloran's dance for three strong women might seem the most lesbian of the four because of its theme--seduction. But like the other dances, this one offers a glimpse into a lesbian worldview, a vision of women's strength without male partnership, not just into sexual events. The dance vocabulary feels different, both in its greater physical force and in the directness of the dancers' partnering. It's as if, at the invitation of Gerber/Hart, lesbians' hidden, shadow stories have come out.

Gertrude Stein's Pink Melon Joy, adapted and directed by Beatrice Bosco, can be seen as the verbal equivalent of the ordinary gestures of Halloran's dances. Like much of Stein's work, this rambling, celebratory play uses the plainest words and objects--banal phrases, partial stories, absolute statements about people or events, references to coal and bread--to convey complex social relationships. Bosco has shifted Pink Melon Joy from its historical context, Stein's visit to Great Britain before the onset of World War I, and made it into a verbal interchange between two lesbian lovers, perhaps Gertrude and Alice, punctuated by a third actor's reading of the words and phrases Stein wrote as markers.

Bosco and her admirable cast--Lydia Brauer, Julia Fabris, and Patricia Kane--are clearly drunk on Stein's language. Their pleasure in it and the emotional connection between the two lovers draw the audience into the web of imaginary and real meanings Stein has woven together as in a dream. The two lovers flirt, fight, and reconcile using Stein's encoded language, transforming her script--published without any indications of characters speaking or stage directions--into a more conventional narrative. The actors, flowing through their cryptic exchanges and soliloquies ("Now I come to stay away. Answer. I shook a darling. Not eating Oh it was so timely"), rest on lush armchairs or flop onto pillows at the front of the stage; they enter with bags of groceries and chop invisible food with a real carving knife. They spar and muse, creating a relationship between them in what sounds at first like nonsense, then becomes a chronicle of daily life, daily thoughts, in Stein's intimate shorthand.

This production of Pink Melon Joy is a remarkable event, more difficult to describe than a dance because of the disjunction between words and narrative. By focusing on the "plot" of two women in love, Bosco reveals something of the struggle of successful countercultural relationships. Sometimes we see the women's frustration at the pressure of patriarchal terms and social disapproval. At other times Stein's encoded script seems to express the ambivalence of two strong women who want to remain strong yet submit to each other. The absence of obvious eroticism makes the play's final tenderness, a promised kiss just before a blackout, even more erotic. Playfulness and strife lie at the root of the women's verbal foreplay. We see only the edge of a complex relationship between two women but go further than is possible in more naturalistic representations, because we build our own interpretations of Stein's code, essentially creating a new language ourselves for a love rarely put into words.

What qualifies as love? How does the sexual link change when it's forbidden or labeled immoral? What is the power dynamic of relationships that don't conform to right-wing expectations? The Gerber/Hart performances revealed some of the subtleties of those power games, the playful connections and daily struggles of a world hidden from the heterosexual eye and imagination.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Love Bleeds Into Everything--We're Drowning at Night/ Pink Melon Joy theater stills.

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Carol Burbank

Agenda Teaser

Performing Arts
July 19
Performing Arts
Guards at the Taj Steppenwolf Theatre
June 13

Tabbed Event Search

Popular Stories