The Convenient Woman, which premiered at DiverseWorks this weekend incorporates some pretty big ideas. I’ll admit I had a few concerns when preliminary press coverage of the work used words like “our” and “we” when discussing topics like feminine identity, self image, and a collective culture of modern individuals that tend to obsess, collect, and acquiesce. Mark Twain once said, “Only kings, presidents, editors, and people with tapeworms have the right to use the editorial ‘we.'” It may seem a bit accusatory (after all, we all like to editorialize, don’t we) but Mr. Twain has a point – what can one person really assume about “we”, or “us,” or “our?” And that’s why in dance and in art, work that aims at expressing opinions about society rarely succeeds without feeling preachy. Fortunately, even if the seed of The Convenient Woman dropped from this tree, for the most part, it has grown into something else.
Chapman and Scates have developed a vocabulary of movement and gesture that is memorable and significant but abstract enough that audiences are given room to adhere their own meaning. They are engaging performers. They move with clarity, allowing improvisational scores to merge seamlessly with choreographed segments to the point of which many audience members will not detect the transition. Individualized and often intimate revelations of and about these two women are shared in a sprawling collage of vignettes that inhabit some space between dance and theatre, producing wonderfully treasurable moments that I’ll allow you to discover for yourself.
Speaking of treasure, Chapman struck a precious commodity when she sat next to Frederique DeMontblanc at a Fresh Arts meeting. A theatrical designer, multi-media artist, and collaborator, DeMontblanc has created inspired and supportive imagery that is no mere backdrop to the conversation between dancers. Rather than a display of animated projections, much of her work is produced live. Like the Wizard of Oz she is off in her own little corner, except there isn’t any curtain. We get to see her at work as she manipulates objects like broken glass and magazine cutouts with a sense of whimsy and sly humor. She occasionally utilizes her projections interactively with the dancers as they stand against a stark back wall. This and other elements, like the artists dressing and undressing both their bodies and their faces, are in keeping with the feeling that we’ve been invited to peek into private moments.
There are gems of material here but The Convenient Woman feels like a work still in progress and in need of some tweaking. As a teacher, I appreciate the value of incorporating students in the work. Because of this, I’m a bit torn over suggesting that it would be improved by losing the cast of extras which have been added to the piece via the Univesity of Houston. However, the piece simply doesn’t need them. Their presence just seems to pollute the more coherent strands, those gems, in the work. A culture overrun by technological conveniences, women objectifying themselves in order to secure a mate, the quest for perfection via the surgeons knife – these are the things that could be widdled away. They are concepts that seem to be remnants of those initial seeds, those big ideas.
More interesting and more telling of the inner lives of women (in this and perhaps any era) is the self-investigation and dialogue between Chapman and Scates. This is the crux of the work, in my opinion and within it is pure gold. I would have liked for Chapman and Scates to unearth more of this, leaving behind those remnants of editorial. But in the end the stuff that shines still speaks volumes. And, it will likely speak to, if not for, many in the audience because above all the work Teresa Chapman, Leslie Scates (and collaborators) have created is personal and confessional.