Nic Green's Trilogy, Battersea Arts Centre, London
Get ready for a nude awakening
Monday 18 January 2010
Near the end of this wonderful show, two naked women confront filmed footage of themselves standing, naked, on a snowy hill in Scotland.
On screen, they sing "Jerusalem", the Blake poem that became a theme tune of the Suffragette movement and a mainstay of the Women's Institute. It says a lot for the ground-breaking originality of Nic Green's Trilogy and for its thought-provoking wit and warm sense of inclusiveness that it feels utterly natural our intrepid pair should risk frostbite in order to extol liberty in the buff in the great outdoors. The nakedness is joyous in its droll shedding of shame.
My definition of a true auteur has always been a writer/performer willing to appear naked as a crucial element in a personally signed but collaboratively devised show. One thinks of Simon McBurney in Mnemonic, Neil Bartlett in A Vision of Love Revealed in Sleep and Robert Lepage throughout his work. These figures tend to be men. Nic Green is all woman and she has re-colonised this masculine preserve with terrific flair and mischief. She prosecutes her argument in a way that is extended by a range of performance styles, from the cheerily combative banter of Victoria Wood to the movingly mannered, synchronised choreography of Pina Bausch.
When the show was performed at last year's Edinburgh Festival, the talking point was the section where a large group of women of all ages and shapes join in a dance of ever wilder abandon. This Dionysiac outburst is executed to pop music which gets ever faster and more physically challenging. But the large-spiritedness of Trilogy made a bigger impression on me. Men are included, in the shape of a youngish guy who is the exact contemporary of the female creators of the piece – they were all born in 1982 or 1983. He represents the kind of man whom feminism has educated but who needs to be forever on his guard against complacency. This we learn during one of the stylised, rhythmically intoned group-questioning sessions that let so much speculative air into the show.
Naked too, he is also used as a pointed contrast to Norman Mailer. The piece was partly inspired by the famous 1971 debate in New York's Town Hall in which Mailer took on leading feminists, including Germaine Greer, and lost heavily, exposing himself as a control-freak fazed by the hilariously unorthodox tactics of the great lesbian author Jill Johnston. We see footage of this debate and it is counterpointed by group dancing that obliquely expresses imaginative dissent.
Nic Green's Trilogy is creatively preoccupied by the history of feminism and the areas it has never reached. There is an appalling still of a woman buried to the waste, awaiting death by stoning. Movingly, one woman has a live phone conversation with her mother about the latter's latter-day liberation.
A website has been set up where you can "make your own herstory". One tip is this. Unearth from historical neglect an under-celebrated woman. Then find a public statue of some patriarchal male and customise it with homemade bits and bobs into a camp iconic tribute to the woman. Readers may like to suggest candidates and relevant statuary.
Fri and Sat (barbican.org.uk)
To mark Tolstoy's 186th birthdaybooks
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