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Woman/Mujer performance by Contemporary Ballet Theatre (CBT) - In the "Through Her Eyes: Women of Color Arts and Film Festival 2003"

by Rachel Rabkin
June 29, 2003
Abrons Arts Center at Henry Street Settlement
Harry du Jur Playhouse
466 Grand Street
New York, NY 10002
212-598-0400

"Woman/Mujer" performance by Contemporary Ballet Theatre (CBT) - In the "Through Her Eyes: Women of Color Arts and Film Festival 2003"


Henry Street Settlement's Abrons Arts Center
www.womenofcolorpro.citymax.com

"Woman/Mujer" was conceived, choreographed and directed by CBT Artistic Director, Pepper.

PERFORMERS: Pepper, Masako Koga, Karen Nicely, Alba Sanchez
DIRECTION: Bob Diaz, Karen Eubanks, Alba Sanchez
COSTUMES: Kate McDowell and Pepper
MUSIC: Various

Review by Rachel Rabkin
June 29, 2003

This performance was a multi-layered and refreshing approach to dance and performance art. Through music choice, choreography, poems, and talk, the principal dancer, Pepper (a dynamic woman of color-a black woman), along with three other female performers (one Hispanic, one Asian, and one Caucasian), illustrated various feelings a woman might experience and various aspects of what it means to be a woman-regardless of her race or background.

To begin, a voice off stage read a poem that spoke of pain, disappointment, loss, and rejection while the music was somber and Pepper began to dance. Her movements demonstrated struggle and anguish. Her facial expressions showed pain and anger but her muscular body showed a powerful force. Pepper was dressed in a neutral brown bodysuit.

Next the music changed to something more upbeat. Pepper put on black clothes that were given to her in front of us by the three other female performers. Then, Pepper, in her black suit jacket and with a brief case, began dancing around the stage, with a smile on her face. This persona was that of a woman in control of her life, authoritative, and successful.

New music emanated from the sound system-this time a number with a raunchy feel-and Pepper began taking off her corporate attire. With flare and dramatics, she let her hair go loose and changed into knee-high black boots, a revealing black bodysuit, and carried a whip. In her dominatrix attire, she began dancing seductively to the raunchy song that said, "Treat her like a lady." The message was clear: A woman can be strong and sexual and still deserve the respect of a lady.

The next segment involved sensual and lighter music. Some of the lyrics talked of being "dangerously in love with you." Pepper put on high heels and began to dance provocatively. She gyrated her hips, and smiled as though she were experiencing pleasure. This portion of the piece clearly showed a woman in love. Pepper even hugged and caressed the three other performers who were standing off to the side.

This happiness did not last long. Suddenly Pepper was sad. She got comforting hugs from the other performers and then went to sit down on the floor with her face in her hands. She took off her sexy shoes and remained barefoot, and put on a flowing, black dress. She put her hair up in a bun and looked somber. The other performers put their arms around each other and read Psalm 23, which is often read at funerals: "The Lord is my shepherd…He restoreth my soul…Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil…" Pepper then leapt and turned until the music was cut off abruptly-and there was darkness.

The three women and Pepper then sat in the center of the stage and talked about the pain of losing someone and the gift of having had these people in our lives. Pepper talked personally about the loss of two of her closest friends and how that person has a lot to do with why she is a performer and dancer. She revealed that some of the clothes she had put on (a turtleneck and dance pants) had belonged to the friends of hers who had passed on. Pepper asked the audience and her fellow performers to celebrate these people's lives and the lives of the people who died in 9/11. The other performers talked about their friends and family who had died, and how they wanted to celebrate them that day. Then the song with the lyrics, "Every breath I take, every move I make, I'll be missing you…" came on loudly and the performers began to dance and clap. They asked the audience to get up on their feet and dance and clap along with them. I found it a bit inspiring but the small, Sunday audience didn't seem to feel comfortable enough to stand and dance. Still, many of us clapped and swayed in our seats. As for me, I felt that Pepper got across the message that women experience a myriad of emotions and that we can be and represent many different things depending on what is going on in our lives at any particular time. The most important thing (even if this message is a bit cheesy) is to value who you are and the loved ones around you.

In the next scene Pepper was in a white, little white dress, dancing. Pepper is a petite woman with incredible musculature. The shear energy she exudes onstage is impressive.

After Pepper was finished, she and the three other performers sat onstage in pajamas and chatted, as though they were at a slumber party. The dialogue was meant to be free flowing and improvised (I believe) but one could tell they had rehearsed a bit before. They talked of what it is to be a woman (in case we didn't get that message through their performance). They discussed how women are multifaceted and how it is hard to be a woman. They talked of how women are searching for love, they are independent, they are mothers, children, goddesses, etc. Women are contradictions: Liberated yet restrained, and feminine yet sporty. Then Pepper shooed the other women off-stage, saying that she needed to clean the place up, and she began dancing to an Alanis Morrissette song. The "cleaning up" may have been referring to a metaphorical cleaning up of the thoughts in her head, and Pepper danced to lyrics that spoke of "these precious illusions in my head."

Then two of the other performers were given a chance to shine. The Asian woman came out in a tiara and a dress and performed. Someone offstage spoke a poem that said, "I'm every woman…I am a Goddess…I am fearless…I am feared, among other things." Then the Caucasian woman came out in what seemed to be a prom dress and performed. Alicia Keys' song about a real woman's worth was played. Offstage the poem that talked of "every woman" was spoken both in English and Spanish.

Finally, all three dancers performed to Missy Elliot's song, whose lyrics include, "I like the way you work it." All of the women proclaimed out loud one at a time, "I'm every woman."

The point may have been hammered home but it was a moving message: Women can be wise, free, scared, powerful, nurturing, loving, confined, capable of growth, sad, and celebrated. To top it off, the dancing was professional-Pepper in particular is skilled-and the performers really gave it all they had. It was a triumphant performance.

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