On Amy Bell’s The Forecast

image by Pari Naderi

 

by Maddy Costa

 

Visibility moderate, occasionally poor

 

“Are you gay? Cos you dance like a lesbian.”

 

Amy Bell’s teenage self, new at university

/ stepping on to the dance floor

/ ready to step into

the person she could be

adult possibility

an element of truth

(mercury? phosporous? neon?)

longed-for fruition

/

and the question comes:

“Are you gay? Cos you dance like a lesbian.”

.

.

.

“What does that even mean?”

 

Left Mover: A thunderstorm which moves to the left relative to the steering winds and to other nearby thunderstorms; often the northern part of a splitting storm.

 

Amy Bell’s adult self, moving across the (wide-open uncluttered generous) stage at the Place, simulating a dance class in which her recorded voice calls out positions /

and from the allongé we’ll move into the cis-piqué

cis-piqué

[a classical ballet term meaning “pricking”]

nice and quick into the daddy-chaser

en cloche

into the queer bull sharp dagger coupé

[a classical ballet term meaning “cut” or “cutting”]

step under into the baby soft dyke à terre

so nice and secure there

we’ll go FTM, MTF

where we can just luxuriate in a bi-curious back bend

a questioning

and a demi-questioning

into a femme trade cottage queen en relevé

[a classical ballet term meaning “raised”]

reaching now to take this straight-acting off balance

as we settle down now into a gold star lesbian

/body contorting to the distinctive language of dance

/body contorting to the distinctive language of gender

 

I am passionate and curious about the way in which gender and sexual identities shape and shift our physicalities and are shaped and shifted by them in return. However I was prompted into this period of research when I noticed a startling paucity of queer female visibility in UK contemporary dance, something all the more startling because it is insidious, my awareness of it crept up slowly, quietly. I realised while there had been an exciting and very welcome explosion of male gender and sexual expression in UK contemporary dance especially since the 1990s, the same cannot be said for women. In particular, there seems to be very little visibility of female masculinity or of open desire between women in dance. Female expression and embodiment often oddly only ranges between the ultra feminine to the politely androgynous, the overtly heterosexual to the evasively ambiguous. These modes of expression are of course valid, important and often complex. However despite the scene being a relative haven of liberal, progressive attitudes, sophisticated expressions of female queerness remain elusive and possibly even unmissed by many. [Amy Bell, We’re queer. We’re… where? Adventures in LGBTQ culture and the hunt for elusive queer female physicalities in contemporary dance, 2014]

 

Pressure rising more slowly

 

It won’t be like that, says Amy.

 

This is at the very beginning, a beginning styled like an end, like an end to a work-in-progress showing.

It won’t be like that, it’ll be more heunnnng, more mmmmmmm, more huhhhhh.

/ talking about the “showing”

/ talking about gender

It won’t be like that, says Amy, hair shorn at the sides, short at the top, lengthening into a tiny mullet at her neck. It will be more [arms twist, upwards thrust, flex wrists]. It will be more [squat-lean-bend]. It will be more [squeeze . squeeze . release].

/ a work-in-progress that might never be finished, always changing

/ a showing, all show, a performance, all flux

What if gender were a weather system, moving across the body in patterns of sunlight and cloud, sometimes mild and sometimes turbulent, something humans are merely subjected to, unable to control?

Or

What if gender were a dance, some moves classical, practised almost universally, some moves modern but long-established and absorbed into the repertoire, some moves new and gauche or new and jagged or new and for now unsettling strange?

 

Confluence: A pattern of wind flow in which air flows inward toward an axis oriented parallel to the general direction of flow. It is the opposite of difluence. Confluence is not the same as convergence. Winds often accelerate as they enter a confluent zone, resulting in speed divergence which offsets the (apparent) converging effect of the confluent flow.

 

[[“What does that even mean?”]]

An axis oriented parallel: Amy pulling down her baby-pink boiler suit to reveal a darker pink leotard scattered with hand prints, a costume custom made for her by her (not pushy) mother, falling in love with dance and women’s bodies and

An axis oriented parallel: Amy dreams of growing [ ]. She’s done the research, understands that the process will be slow, a centimetre a month, that’s all. For a few moments it seems [ ] might be a penis. In fact [ ] is a

An axis oriented parallel: the binary, the spectrum, Amy as confluence; gender unfixed, made fluid, made air, like water, changing its state, dependent upon the temperature.

A friend says he thinks of gender as a color. Gender does share with color a certain ontological indeterminacy: it isn’t quite right to say that an object is a color, nor that an object has a color. Context also changes it: all cats are gray, etc. Nor is color voluntary, precisely. But none of these formulations mean that the object in question is colorless. [Maggie Nelson, The Argonauts, 2015]

 

Warm front advancing, replacing cooler air

My gender as a weather system: a flat grey day. Cloud so solid no edges can be discerned. Neither warm nor cold. No sun, no rain. I resist calling this neutral: it is not neutral. I resist calling it characterless: it is not characterless. It is my husband’s favourite kind of weather; it reminds him of home, Edinburgh. I am cis, I am heterosexual, white and middle-class too: I am the model of British normativity. Non-descript, except so much to describe here. My gender as a weather system: my least favourite kind of day. Perhaps none of that is relevant at all.

Front: The boundary or transition zone between two different air masses.

Amy Bell’s adult self, moving across the (wide-open uncluttered generous) stage at the Place, dressed as a swan: not Odile, not Odette, but a fantastical creature of her own creation, silver, tassled, skinny blue* jeans. The ugly duckling /

“Are you gay? Cos you dance like a lesbian.”

[*A note from Amy: the jeans are black not blue – I call this section The Dyking Swan (not that it matters but I thought it might amuse you) – and the black for me is a part of the shadowiness of descending into death/dyke which wouldn’t be so present if they were blue]

/ transformed, self-defining, still searching /

It won’t be like that, it will be more …

more …

more …

cis-piqué! cis-piqué!

pricking, but not at all prickling

/ tracing the paths made by others, shaping new paths for herself.

 

A friend says [by email, 2016]: “generalising and labelling is the biggest problem I have with the world – I would honestly be happier if we were all intersex and changed the colour of our skin regularly. [Change is great. Difference is great. And hard. I walk the same route up the road every day, and every now and then I make myself change it up just to make sure I’m not getting stuck in a pattern. But even that is hard. Not getting attached to things, not thinking there’s a ‘way things are’ or a ‘way people are’. And of course we need some stability to function…].

Amy Bell’s adult self performing The Forecast, duetting with gender, its rules, boundaries, transitions, with humour, generosity, tenderness, a dialogue, and a promise, that we can do so much better, be so much better, with each other, in ourselves.

 

[Dear Amy – thanks again for sending that recording – I’ve had to force myself not to quote too much of it, even so I’ve probably taken a bit of a liberty – but I love that section so much: it’s so funny, and clever, and poetic, and every time I think about the word cis-piqué I get the giggles. Genius – no, queenius, as my beloved friend David would say.]

 

image by Pari Naderi

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