A little hot mess

11 April 2017

Gender in all its complexity flourishes in he she they, says Joseph Winer


Gender is an increasingly topical talking point, but one that is often quite difficult to talk about. As society moves along with the times, we as a whole are becoming more accepting and aware of gender as a social construct, one that actually goes beyond a gender binary system. It has become apparent that the assigning of gender at birth is based purely on the presence or absence of the male sex organ. Gender is far more complex than the binary allows.

he she they explores the fluidity of gender, specifically the relationship between gender, sexuality and clothing. It does so through the fairytale-esque narrative of a child who doesn’t associate themselves with either set of gendered clothing. The sparse narrative that surfaces a few times throughout the piece takes a supportive role, for this devised play produced by O Collective is primarily performed as a series of dance and movement sequences.

One such sequence involves one performer removing layers of clothes to the sounds of heavy drumming, leading to the last layer, a dress, in which they spin around the stage, holding total control of an item of which society deems does not belong to them.

This sequence is perhaps the most poignant in the piece, as the performer moves as one with the items, one image powerfully presenting a scarf as a noose around his neck that he tugs towards the sky.

The final dance sequence, performed simultaneously by four of the actors, is repeated for quite some time while another performer reads a series of gender labels into a microphone. Through a sense of endurance, we are given a snippet into the difficulties faced by someone who is not accepted by the society-constructed system of gender.

Amidst teary eyes, there is also an unusual element of comic relief, as one of the actors wanders about the theatre, asking the audience if they have seen her missing shoe. The comedy at first is certainly entertaining, although does seem a little out of place later on in the piece when we’re at its emotional pique. Once her shoes are on, she tap dances away while delivering a sexist stand-up routine of all the clich├ęs, a multi-tasking talent that is fiercely performed and thoroughly captivating.

There’s a moment of audience participation that I’m still unsure about, as one actor takes a microphone to a select few and asks what the difference between a man and a woman is, placing them right in the spotlight. It seems to put an unnecessary pressure on the audience, and ultimately the piece suggests that such a question is unanswerable, so asking some random audience members is possibly a little cruel.

In the background of the seemingly natural choreography that moves us swiftly along sits a group of musicians, who pull an equal weight to the show, matching the energy of the movement with their beat and rhythm, which governs the pace of the whole show and ignites that intrinsic, splurge of emotion that only music is capable of doing.   

This show asks big questions, and ultimately uses dance to express that which words cannot. At times it is a little messy, with lots going on and the focus sometimes unclear, but if you commit to the performance and interact with what is being shown and said, you will hopefully realise that it all sort of works. Yes, it’s a little messy. But gender is a messy issue. There are few answers and lots of questions, and he she they manages to encapsulate the complexities of gender, through its powerful music, simplified dialogue and purposeful chorography that tells you everything you need to know. 


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Photo credit: Aenne Pallasca