Beginning to explore a female image: RoseAnne Spradlin at New York Live Arts

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Photo by Ian Douglas; courtesy of

For the audience at New York Live Arts, RoseAnne Spradlin’s beginning of something began with entering the venue, walking down the stairs past all of the seats and past a silver beaded curtain that extended across the front of the stage, and sitting either on a cushion on the floor or a chair arranged around the perimeter of a platform. Here, the more expensive tickets (for chairs) allowed audience members to be closer to the eye level of the performers—though further away.

Musicians sat on another platform on the stage right side of the platform. Their music, renditions of the Hal David/Burt Bacharach song “Don’t Make Me Over” were juxtaposed with recorded music composed by Krystzof Penderecki. Penderecki’s music, which was used in the films The Shining and The Exorcist, was discordant and unsettling.

The performance began with quiet elegance, though. Dancer Rebecca Serrell Cyr, seated on the platform, played an electric bass as the audience filed in; the piece really began when she put away the bass and donned a beaded headdress. Naked, she walked around the stage to an instrumental version of “Don’t Make Me Over.” A poignant moment came when she knelt down and reached out to (cushion-seated) audience members. When I saw her reach out to a person seated in front of me, it seemed that she was saying, “You’ve just devoured my body with your eyes and now you won’t even touch me when I reach out to you.”

The other dancers gradually entered in costumes allowing different amounts of exposure—a fur coat over undergarments, a pea coat over undergarments, and loose, sheer pants with a bra constructed from tape. They drew attention to the audience members’ gazes by gazing back, sometimes blankly, sometimes accusingly. Sharp passages of movement, including marching and stomping, grabbing and lifting one leg, and assisted leaps (two dancers would help lift another in a leap while the other ran alongside) were interspersed with passages of shaking, dressing and undressing, and walking back and forth across the stage. The stark juxtapositions of naked vs. clothed and recorded (unpleasant) vs. live (pleasant) music were what remained with me after the performance. Some of the movement was wonderful to watch—especially the supported leaps—but I wanted more of it. Beginning of something felt short, and I wished that it was longer.

Photo by Ian Douglas; courtesy of

What really interested me was some of the information on the New York Live Arts website regarding the performance:

“An exploration of movement and energy, beginning probes and reveals the female image and psyche,” and “The audience is seated in close proximity to the dancers who perform on an elevated platform creating a shift in scale that empowers the cast.”

I really didn’t feel that the platform empowered the cast. The perspective changed, and there was “a shift in scale,” but this didn’t translate into a shift in power.

How does one probe and reveal the psyche? And how is this mounted on the stage? Specifying “female image and psyche” made me think of the male/female binary, and I wondered how differently the male image and psyche would look on stage. Choosing the singular form is problematic, implying that there is just one, single female image and psyche that can be revealed.

I felt that these women were playing characters, which made their psyches somehow impenetrable to me. The character feeling came from their non-naturalistic behavior: the way they walked in spirals and loops, their shaking. It’s not that more everyday behavior wouldn’t be performative; it would be, in this context. Perhaps the problem was that I never suspended my disbelief; I was overwhelmed by the performative aspect. The only time I really took pleasure in the performance/fantasy happening before me was when the dancers screamed. That was beautiful—something that doesn’t often happen in the real world can happen in a performance space, and it can be expressive and profound.

Maybe part of the point was that the psyche cannot be revealed; it is too complex. Different aspects of the performance must strike each audience member differently, and maybe we can only appreciate those that appeal to our own, pre-existing notion of the female image and psyche.

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  • candice

    I appreciate your insight into the idea of our personal filter affecting the reception of performative behaviors. This is something I have been thinking about a lot, in particular, how the last show I have seen affects the next show I see. That combined with the pre-existing notion you cite, makes live performance so profound and individual!

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