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BWW Review: FEMME at Space Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre

An award winning dance performance.

BWW Review: FEMME at Space Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre Reviewed by Ray Smith, Thursday 3rd June 2021.

Winner of Best Dance at Adelaide Fringe 2019, and the 2020 Made in Adelaide award at Adelaide Fringe, FEMME returns to Adelaide after acclaimed seasons in Reykjavik, Edinburgh, and Stockholm. It is presented by Adelaide Festival Centre's inSPACE Program in association with Erin Fowler Movement.

Erin Fowler's FEMME is astonishingly good, as this brilliantly conceived solo performance takes us along a timeline stretching from young girl to "Boss Lady".

A journey so filled with obstacles and traumas, sexism and sexual assault, traps and tripwires, condescension and derision, that few men would even survive emotionally what is the lived experience of far too many women.

The set is deceptively simple. The audience is seated on either side of an illuminated catwalk, reminiscent of Fowler's career as a fashion model. At one end stands a 2.4metre aluminium step ladder, at the other a small tent.

As the performance begins, we see Fowler's shadow on the face of the tent, as she stretches and rolls inside, until her hands appear beneath the front flap and between its folds, tentative, uncertain and questioning. Then her head appears and she seems astonished to see her audience, her eyes wide and curious, until she finally bursts out looking awkward and gangly and giggly. The tent has given birth, and it's a girl.

She dons a party frock over her oversized shorts and striped shirt, before slipping on a pair of bright red stiletto heeled shoes, and then she tries to walk. This part of the show is both comedic and familiar to anyone who has watched a child perform this particular ritual with Mum's shoes, as the dancer tries to gain control over the ungainly footwear. She moves with all the grace and elegance of a new born foal, slipping and sliding, falling and struggling to rise again, in a beautiful and hilarious piece of slapstick that had the audience in tears of laughter.

She finally regains the relative security of the front of the tent, and everything changes. She stands and shakes as if struck, as intermittent strobe like flashes of light hit her body, accompanied by a disconcerting buzzing sound. Time is passing, and the gangly new born foal is starting to notice the World, and it isn't very pleasant.

Young voices are heard amongst the soundscape, expounding the wisdom of the Primary School playground as the roles and requirements of the genders are explained. Boys have to be tough and girls have to be pretty. Well, they'd better be pretty. Boys have big muscles and girls have big breasts. Well, they'd better have big breasts. Boys are bosses and girls do as they are told. Well, they'd better do as they are told. It begins very early, and it inevitably gets worse.

Fowler leads us through childhood into adolescence, where the simple pleasure of a High School dance is punctuated by relentless, unwanted and merciless assaults; a lifted dress, a grabbed breast, a squeezed buttock.

The innocent dancer goes from losing herself in music and movement to a stature of horrified self defence, fearfully looking around to try to anticipate and ward off the next attack from the surrounding boys. It was with a deep feeling of shame that I recognised those boys, because I used to be one of them.

When Fowler was eighteen years old, she was a fashion model in Paris, where she was poked and prodded, and told exactly what to do to become the perfect "object". Every little girl's dream? I sincerely hope not.

The costume changes were many and performed at incredible speed within the little tent, the dancer's shadow projected on the front flap like a movie as she stripped and dressed again. We watched like voyeurs, Peeping Toms staring greedily at the beautiful and sexy "object" while the voices of boorish men and victimised women added to the soundtrack.

When Fowler started to work with the stepladder, the reason for its presence became clear. It was a dance partner, a challenge, a risk, an enemy, an object that would allow a large man to climb but would collapse under the ingrained cultural weight of a slender woman.

You can't break a glass ceiling if you can't reach it.

It featured poignantly in Fowler's conclusion, which you will need to witness for yourself, as I am not sufficiently experienced or qualified to document it, having been "one of those boys". I urge you to see this performance. It is utterly wonderful and absolutely unique, and from my personal viewpoint, a reminder to be always conscious in word and deed.


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