Photo Credit: Phil Wayes

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Watching Dance: 'The Convenient Woman' @ Diverseworks

I wasn't sure what to expect when I went to see A Convenient Woman at Diverseworks. I knew that it was the work of choreographers Leslie Scates and Teresa Chapman, and that this multi-disciplinary dance- theater piece that examined the tribulations of women in today's society. I did have some reservations when I heard the concept of the show, only because I am not a feminist and gender studies were never my thing. It's almost surprising, then, to hear that I forcefully shoved my Inner Cynic into a closet I enjoyed this performance very much. But I did-- and I am a tough sell when it comes to contemporary dance. Let's hear more:

Chapman and Scates seemed to know what audience members were expecting to see when they constructed the piles of props for their opening tableau: boxes of notecards, wine glasses, and shoes. Lots of shoes. After a few minutes, however, it becomes this piece-- a mixed-media combination of live dance, spoken text, music, and live projections (I'll talk about that in a minute)-- is far more honest than that.
The text was written by Scates and Chapman, with the exception of an excerpt from J. Terry Garrity's The Way to Become the Sensuous Woman (1969). Instead of being a diatribe about the societal expectations toward women, the spoken words follow a much more practical vein: having a drawer full of dish towels that you never, ever use; or owning a multitude of high heels though you prefer to be barefoot.
I enjoyed Convenient Woman's use of spoken word with the choreography for two other reasons beyond that: One, Scates and Chapman spoke while dancing; which any dance can tell you is no easy task. Two, It was not overly literal-- the text enhanced the choreography, but the choreography was not solely based around the words that were being spoken. It was refreshing to see.

Earlier I mentioned that this performance uses live projections. You're thinking "What? How does that work?," but oh, it does. The projections that appeared behind the dancers were being produced on the spot by Frederique DeMontblanc, who utilized a variety of objects, paper cut-outs, and even web pages to add to the performance. Much more innovative--and intriguing-- than your ususal pre-recorded slideshow.

The most effective use of the text was not a movement sequence, but a monologue performed by Leslie Scates as she slowly pushed wine glasses across an ironing board, one by one, until they tumbled off the end into a metal trash can. The sounds of shattering glass punctuated the emotionally-raw monologue and made it a bit chilling.

The show was not without flaws, though. I could have done without the extraneous cast members who wandered in and out throughout the show. These "extras" were students of Women's Studies at the University of Houston, but their presence was unecessary and a bit distracting. The multitude of props onstage did well to set up the show at the beginning, but after that they just became scenery (and rather distracting, at that).
A few scenes went on for too long, especially a duet that took place about halfway through. The sequence did nothing to further the piece, and the projections of web pages depicting plastic surgery procedures made it even more difficult to watch.

Those qualms aside, I felt that A Convenient Woman was an engaging show, and I'm looking forward to taking some friends to see it this weekend. On a scale of one to ten, I give A Convenient Woman an 8.

A special thank-you to Nancy Wozny from Dancehunter for the opportunity to see the press preview of this performance. Thanks!

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