Untitled Feminist Show

UNTITLED FEMINIST SHOW by Young Jean Lee (Harbourfront World Stage). At the Fleck Dance Theatre (207 Queens Quay W). Runs.


UNTITLED FEMINIST SHOW by Young Jean Lee (Harbourfront World Stage). At the Fleck Dance Theatre (207 Queens Quay W). Runs to February 15. $39. 416-973-4000. harbourfrontcentre.com. See Listings. Rating: NNNN

I walked away from Young Jean Lee’s Untitled Feminist Show speechless, with the Annie Lennox lyric “Language is leaving me” thrumming through my brain.

Which makes sense given that the show at the Fleck, brought to you by Harbourfront’s World Stage series, is an exhilarating riot of ideas about representation, feminine roles and the female body – and almost completely wordless.

Lee’s troupe, featuring half-dozen women of various shaped and sizes, performs completely naked. This is not just a gimmick, the strategy is central to the work’s theme: yes, even in this culture, where women’s bodies automatically signify desire, it’s possible to watch six women perform in the nude without spending all your energy sexualizing them. In fact, as the vignettes unfold, you almost forget you’re watching women wearing no clothes.

Make no mistake, though: sex is definitely one of the topics on Lee’s mind. In one sequence, Amelia Zirin-Brown (aka Lady Rizo) turns the typical tables, sexualizing the men in the audience with a hilarious mime of all the things she can do with a penis. Jen Rosenblit does a wild dance, some of it after descending into the crowd, dispelling the stereotype of aroused female as victim. Another scene features the entire troupe jiggling their bodies – first on their own, then connected in a simulated orgy.

A same-sex pas de deux subtly comments on how deeply ensconced gender codes are in ballet. In a mesmerizing solo, Becca Blackwell seamlessly morphs gender roles, at one moment a powerful butch pounding a punching bag, the next replicating conventionally feminine movements. The body on its own, standing still, signifies almost nothing.

Throughout the show, the performers use their bodies to create spectacular images, limbs configured into geometric forms or compelling clusters. And they often move with precise synchronicity, as in a near-dance sequence commenting on the endless requirements of being a mother.

It’s all accompanied by Chris Giarmo and Jamie McElhinney’s kick-ass sound design dominated by throbbing beats. Occasionally you hear the performers’ voices, but almost always – especially in Madison Krekel’s extended song using only the lyric “la la,” – Lee demonstrates that language is inadequate.

Not all of the ideas are crystal clear. Katy Pyle is superb in a series of dancerly roles, including the pas de deux. But in an early segment, is she a hunchback or an elephant? And what exactly is the feminist message behind a deftly executed fighting sequence – Desiree Burch is especially effective here – in slow motion?

No worries. Even if Untitled Feminist Show’s subtext may be more coherent than its actual content, it’s consistently riveting. Trust me, you’ve never seen anything like it.

susanc@nowtoronto.com | @susangcole

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