Girl Child ultimately tells us that we “have to keep going, you have to get up and keep going”; but this hopeful sentiment is only the conclusion after exploring less optimistic scenarios. The show, with original music by Wachira Waigwa-Stone, has been described by choreographer Karin Fenn as an exploration of female stereotypes and trauma.
Six dancers enter, a procession of women in white slips, finding themselves in a space filled with piles of rose petals, a rack of dresses, and folding chairs. They settle in fetal positions, atop the mounds of rose petals. Ai Fujii Nelson awakens first, bathing herself in the petals, sensual and uninhibited. She makes her way over to Eileen Rojas, rubbing the petals on her skin and swaying with the ritual. The movement is soft and gestural; arms unfolding, hands reaching, hair swirling, circular torsos with necks exposed to the sky. The two younger dancers, (both sophomores in high school), Frieda Johnston Dicke and Sadie Havlicek, remain onstage, witnessing this female community.
Fujii Nelson performs another memorable section in which her torso is wrapped in a long piece of red fabric and she progressively unwinds herself. Emily Haygeman holds one end while she is tethered to the other, highlighting her limited mobility. I anticipated this developing into a struggle, a woman trying to free herself from outside constraints, but after a short period of restriction, Fujii Nelson simply unrolled herself from the end of the fabric and continued moving through the space.
Corinne Penka, always a powerhouse performer, frantically moved about while the audio droned on about how to achieve domestic perfection. The crowd laughed at her futile and desperate attempts. She later yelled to us (or into the void?), “What were you THINKING?! What are the outcomes of YOUR actions?!” She continued on with fury and pointed emotion as the ensemble reverberated to her words.
Moments like these were uncomfortable but also felt necessary to the arc of the piece; they gave something to build up to, and then something to recover from. (Other moments that teetered, or crossed over to violence, included Fujii Nelson and Penka dancing as if at a club, their vernacular moves erupting into pushes and yelling, and later Rojas, scared and bewildered, being groped by the ensemble.) Penka was finally soothed by the two younger performers - as if their presence reminded her (or maybe just reminded me) of a more innocent and optimistic time, of youth. This moment was my favorite as it highlighted the disparity between the adult women and the young women, and somehow justified their inclusion in other sections where they had remained more on the periphery.
Haygeman had the last solo of the night, titled In my own Image, which showed a quiet, resolute power. The sensual innocence and/or indulgence that we witnessed in the beginning was gone, as was the pain and aggression. What we were left with as a final image was an ensemble of women standing up, continuing on.
Karin Fenn’s Girl Child continues through Saturday, May 18, at Salt Lake Arts Academy.
Erica Womack is a Salt Lake City-based choreographer. She coordinates loveDANCEmore’s Mudson series and contributes regularly to the blog.