Saturday 21 March 2015

Parallel (& Why I Don’t Like The Rainbow) – Studio Alta, Prague

[seen 20/03/15]

The day before the Identity.Move project’s Bazaar Festival showed Parallel, Polish theorist Karol Radziszewski gave a brilliant short talk entitled Why I don’t Like the Rainbow. It outlined his growing research into pre-1989 and even pre-WWII queer history in his native Poland, in the Czech Republic (& former Czechoslovakia), and further afield into Eastern Europe, and then pitted this history against the Westernisation of all things LBGTQ (and someone this week used LBGTQIA – presumably adding intersex and asexual?) post-’89. His reasonably stated contention was that, as in so many other fields, from economics to art, the West has tactlessly piled in, possibly with much enthusiasm and the best of intentions, or possibly with a staggering capitalism-driven cynicism, and imposed its own pre-set versions of How Things Work onto the newly ex-communist bloc. In the case of LBGTQ politics and the field of gay rights, Radziszewski wryly noted that it is now common for Poles and Czechs interested in gay rights to be more familiar with the dissident struggles in New York in the 1970s than their own history, just as Eastern European schoolkids run the risk of being more familiar with the Equal Rights movement of 1960s USA than their own country’s struggles during that decade. (Hell, that’s even true of UK schools.)

Radziszewski’s theory continues: in the west the gay rights revolution happened in the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s moving from the alternative to the mainstream. But, moving into Eastern Europe after the ‘80s, no one wanted to export (or import) the “alternative” bit. In 2010, Euro-Pride was held in Warsaw. Radziszewski terms it “Rainbow Colonialism”: a Western symbol, imposed on Eastern Europe: too late and as a failure. Warsaw, 2010 featured largely parties for gay *men* with VIP tickets. Images of *nice*, *young*, *gays* and a lot of talk about the value of the pink-złoty. All the money for the festival came from Germany and the Netherlands who were *teaching them* to “fight for their rights” (in much the same way as Germany has “helped” Greece with its economy, no doubt). As a result, Radziszewski and his friends organised anti-Euro-pride swhich involved no money, a DIY aesthetic, and where all the logos, materials, promo stuff, etc., were in black and white as a deliberate statement against the *Rainbow*.

I mention all this by way of part-explantion as to why I’m precisely the wrong White, Male, Straightish Westerner to even begin to review Parallel.

Parallel is a Romanian dance-theatre piece that deals with feminism, lesbianism, misogyny and marginalisation in a direct, confrontational style. According to Romanian friends, it is pretty groundbreaking in this respect. And also quite a brave statement for the artists, who also have neither context nor Romanian vocabulary for what they’re talking about. (The show is *always* performed in English, apparently, not just because it was showing at an international festival.)

What happens, briefly: the two performers (I was going to say “both women”, but as there’s a fair bit of gender-questioning in the piece, maybe that’s not how one, other or either performer chooses to self-identify) start off doing exercises to one of those video workouts, then the music changes and they do a pretty hardcore weights, skipping, push-ups and on-the-spot jogging routine (which would literally kill me to attempt). After this, they retreat up stage, which is divided by a tiled bathroom/changing room wall, strip off to their pants, and perform a bunch of football-related exercises, from playing keepy-uppy to throwing penalty save shapes. After this, one dresses in conventionally heteronormative blokes clothes (shabby suit and tie), and the other dresses in a back- and front- crotchless PVC outfit spikes “her” hair, and glues on a bunch of sideburn. Suit then sits on a chair and tells a non-stop stream of anti-lesbian jokes while PVC gets a ukulele and sings songs about cocks and women. I will say, that at this point so many points seemed to be being made at such a speed that it was difficult to keep a neat track of whether these were consistent characters, who they were, what they meant, etc. But I’m pretty sure that’s a UK theatre-thinking problem more than anything at fault on stage. Gradually, suit starts saying some things that sounded (if I remember rightly) more like they were anti-misogyny, and then there is a rather nice bit of more reflective poetry/lyrical speaking at the end.

Yes, its theatre/dance/dance-theatre, but it almost steps beyond the need to assess it in artistic terms because the content is so important for its context and its performers. Or, looked at another way, not coming from that context, it’s impossible for me to assess it, even artistically. I can understand/appreciate the importance of the context, but that’s not enough to actually re-wire my brain, or change the direction from which I approach it.

There’s a fine tradition of British critics (step forward Michael Billington and Charlie Spencer in particular) assessing all theatre as if it were British theatre, albeit British theatre which had somehow forgotten “the rules” (as if we all even agreed those rules in “Britain”, or even in “England”). Well, it’s a tradition I am more than happy to try to play a small part in putting a stop to.

I don’t really come to these festivals to pass judgement, but to learn. And if there’s a huge lesson to here in both Parallel and Why I don’t Like the Rainbow it’s that context is bloody important and that steamrollering over everything in the firm belief that a (even well-meaning, leftie) Western viewpoint is neutral, superior and correct can be as damaging as outright misogyny and every bit as bigoted. Also: since has The West resolved its own homophobia or misogyny anyway? It’s not like we’re some sort of equal opportunities wonderland [insert topical links of your choice here].

1 comment:

JohnnyFox said...

Good pice - but my experience of Warsaw Pride was different. Check out 'Saturday'.