Body 13 is a performance about our bodies, our sexuality, and the impact other people’s gazes, comments, and actions have on us. Unless you study or work in a field where these topics are pervasive, you probably don’t think about body image and sexuality on a day-to-day basis. For many our ideas about what is (or should be) acceptable behavior are formed slowly over time, in an insidious way. We accept that it’s okay for a man to say to a woman that she has beautiful eyes, but it’s not okay for a man to say to another man on the beach that he looks hot. And we accept how people “should” react in each of the aforementioned situations. In Body 13‘s relentless portrayal of interactions that emphasize other’s relationships with our bodies and our sexuality, the social conventions that we take as the norm – across gender, age, and culture – become increasingly apparent.
In particular, the advances made by Thomas (played by John Havens) on all of the characters – from giving those on stage creepy gazes and sleazy flirting to name calling to physically attacking someone allowed me to reflect on what I, and others, experience on a day-to-day basis. What situations do we accept this behaviour in? What situations is it creepy? Why doesn’t someone intervene? Much as in life, each of the characters in Body 13 must encounter Thomas’ behaviour and decide how to react, and ultimately overcome, it, thus freeing themselves from social norms holding them back.
Another aspect that made Body 13 such a powerful piece was the live musical accompaniment. I don’t think I’ve ever heard music that is so chilling in a performance before. Throughout the show the musicians sit omniscient behind the stage, partially hidden by a sheer curtain that only gives us glimpses of them in the moments when the stage lights come up. The music is an eclectic mix of noise music and more traditional sounds, made through the intersection of electronics and traditional instruments like the guitar, cello and drums. Instead of using sounds that maybe a more traditional score would have employed – screeching seagulls, crashing waves, the soundscape used a mix of individually unidentifiable sounds to accelerate the action and the audience’s understanding of the action – throwing you off-balance and creating the sense of attack and prejudice that is being portrayed on stage.
Canoe Theatre Festival runs January 22 – February 2. Body 13 will be performed again January 24 and 26. Tickets are $18 – $20. Check out the full festival schedule on Workshop West’s website.
Also: read my festival preview where I interview Workshop West’s Artistic Director, Michael Clark, about what audiences can expect from Canoe 2014.