Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Elizabeth Streb and the forces of nature

Elizabeth Streb calls herself an action architect. She designs new ways for the human body to move through space, challenge gravity, push the possibilities of physics. At first glance she may seem like an edgy choreographer or an "extreme action hero," as some have called her. But don't get distracted by spectacle. What's really going on is an exploration of how our bodies can make the most of our existence in our physical world. Just as a meditation master might ask her student to imagine the infinite possibilities of the mind, Streb is asking her dancers—and by extension, us—to question our preconceptions about how we use our bodies. At least, that's my interpretation.

With the cinderblocks swinging and the bodies airborne, it would be a mistake to think this is a reckless act. Rather, it's a carefully constructed and executed communal event. The dancers must trust each other, trust their training, trust their bodies. And they must embrace the physical world, whether harsh or supple.

As you may have gathered, I've got a thing for dance. Ex-girlfriend. For a few years I saw a lot of modern dance in various studios and performance spaces below 14th Street in Manhattan. I know the art as observer—never performer—but not just as audience. I liked watching rehearsals, whenever I could, more than the polished concert. I liked seeing the dancers deal with their injured foot or discuss a particular "phrase" of movement. Streb invites the public to watch rehearsals at her company's space in Brooklyn—reportedly a cavernous facility in Williamsburg. I haven't been there—yet.

Streb is a great-looking butch punk lesbian whose partner is British-born journalist Laura Flanders (who runs GritTv, with which I am entirely unfamiliar.) See the two of them talking about gender and class in dance. Streb won a MacArthur "genius" grant in 1997. Scientific American has said: "Streb distinguishes her work from ballet and modern dance, which, she says, seek to camouflage the forces of nature. Those forces are the whole point of her performances."

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Prodigal Sister

I realized recently that I've seen Michelle Shocked in concert more than any other artist. And the trend continued Sunday night at Johnny D's in Somerville, Massachusetts, as I sat with the aged hippies, the still-hoping lesbians, and the musician geeks gathered to pay homage to our girl Michelle—icon, genius, diva.

Hey, Chel, you know it's kinda funny, we always thought you were a lesbian. There were, after all, indications early on—the references, the spiked hair, the long tall swagger, the Chuck Taylors. But, no. You went off and got all Christian on us for a while. Married a guy. Put on a dress. It was all so disconcerting. But I've made my peace with it. Come a Long Way is still a favorite anthem to rebellion. 5 a.m. in Amsterdam is still so tender. You are still a great showman, even if there are moments when you seem, uh, not quite stable. You run the stage. You boss the audience. Your music is part of who I am.

So it was like seeing a crazy ex-girlfriend, watching you up on stage again. You looked good. Tanned. Fit. Leather vest. (There you go confusing us again! And what's up with the 2005 album Don't Ask, Don't Tell? You flirt.) Tell me, what's it like to be a skateboard punk rocker? Whatever you're up to, keep on rocking, girl. Keep on rocking.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Tilda Swinton is swayed by gay girl

Ladies, here is something to look forward to: Tilda Swinton in the Italian film I Am Love. I have full confidence that this film, which is due to open soon at my neighborhood independent theater, will be perfect for one of my favorite pastimes—watching Tilda Swinton. On screen everyone will be wearing gorgeous Italian clothes, walking pensively down long hallways in magnificent Italian mansions, and bursting at their couture seams with unspoken desire. And, best yet, a darling little cropped-haired lesbian plays the wise one. From what I gather, Tilda's daughter in the film comes out as a lesbian thereby sparking in her previously reserved mother a new passionate fire. In short, Tilda has a hot affair with a hot young uomo. During an interview at the Toronto International Film Festival you can see Tilda explaining things, such as "the concept of limitlessness" in choosing one's identity. Ah, I feel less inhibited already.

We love Tilda Swinton for so many reasons. Among them, of course, is her gender-bending film portrayal of Woolf's Orlando. We also love how she clearly does not abide by the standard rules of domesticity, as she evidently has a young lover in addition to her decades-long partner, the Scottish painter John Byrne, with whom she shares children and a manse on the shores of the North Sea in the rugged Scottish highlands. The UK's Daily Mail calls the place "a spectacular pile" at which Tilda can be seen "running around in an old green cardigan" and a "scruffy Land Rover." Although here she's seen in some expensive Pringle sweaters. For which, by the way, she is the new model for both the women and menswear collections. Appropriate, as the Daily Mail article also pointed out: "She has no vanity and has been mistaken—because of her height and androgynous features—for a man."

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Dyke star

Last night I saw the Swedish film The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and the verdict is not good news for bibliophiles. The film is better than the book, particularly in regard to the most important issue: How are the queers portrayed? Unlike the book—in which Lisbeth Salander is insecure about her body and is repeatedly described as looking anorexic—the film gives us a muscled, confident, masculine female who proudly chooses to play by her own rules. In other words, a dyke.

I admit I did close my eyes during the torture scenes—the Sapphist Gazetteer simply has no desire to watch that behavior—therefore I cannot give an entirely comprehensive review. However, I will say that it was a joy to see a dyke strutting around on screen in her big heavy boots. Even while having sex with the leading man, Lisbeth is clearly not straight. You'll understand when you see it. You can also look forward to seeing Lisbeth rise confidently nude from a bed she shares with a sexy woman.

Brava to Noomi Rapace, the straight actress who plays Lisbeth Salander, for seeming to have no compulsion to appeal to convention. Can't wait to see what she does in The Girl Who Played With Fire, which will be released in the US in fall 2010. The movie poster shows Salander lounging on a BMW engulfed in flames. So cool. Not sure if I'll read the book first...

Monday, May 3, 2010

'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' offers more crumbs to the queer community

My book group recently relented to the hype and read Stieg Larsson's enormously successful thriller, "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," which features a troubled but gifted queer woman as its title character. As a result, Lisbeth Salander, a computer hacker with a photographic memory and her own code of justice, is being celebrated in some circles (AfterEllen) as a queer heroine and decried in others as just another example of misogyny (Guardian.)

While I confess to being sucked into the book, and while I concede that Salander is, indeed, refreshing in that her very presence does represent queers who are so often absent in the mainstream, I do have a few serious concerns:


1. Salander is brutally and sexually tortured in a scene that goes on far too long and in far more detail than necessary. (And I would further argue that in fact the torture was in no way needed to advance the plot.) In the words of one of the women in my group: "It makes you wonder who's getting off on this."

2. Salander's bisexuality is so minor in the book that one of the women in my group missed it. Salander spends a lot more time in bed with the male protagonist, whose character is so self-indulgently and obviously a fantasy of the male sexual conquerer that I am embarrassed for the deceased Larsson. (Apparently the second book in the trilogy offers Salander in a more developed lesbian relationship.)

3. Salander is a deviant who is victimized, lives on the fringe, and is unwelcome and disinterested in civic and social institutions. This is a very unfortunate throwback to 1950s-era representations of tragic and dysfunctional gay and lesbian life.

Okay, onward. The film version in theaters now is a Swedish-made movie starring Noomi Rapace (above) as Lisbeth Salander. I'm hearing that this film is excellent, and, on first glance, I'm at least pleased that they did not "straighten up" Salander. Rapace looks to me like an authentic queer woman. Cheers for that.

In the meantime, the American film version will be directed by David Fincher, whose work includes Se7en, Fight Club, and Panic Room. His style is too violent for my taste, but he is a master of edgy mood. And he's not afraid to let lesbians and tomboys be themselves on screen, as was evident with Jodie Foster and Kristen Stewart in Panic Room, in which, some have said, Stewart played "Jodie Foster's son." By the way, Fincher also seems to like working with repeat actors (e.g. Brad Pitt.) Might he also like to work again with tomboy Stewart, who is reportedly interested in the Salander role? (And so is gamine cutie Carey Mulligan.) Or might he like working again with Jodie Foster? If she weren't a complete failure at creating sexual chemistry with her male counterparts (e.g. Sommersby, Contact, Anna and the King, etc., etc.), she would make a fabulous Erika Berger. Therefore, she gets my vote for playing Harriet Vanger...