Despite numerous possible modes of choreography, all the visual artists invited for the series Chorégraphies d’artistes (at Tangente in Montreal, November 12 to 27, 1982) presented works for solo or duo dancers, or more justly, solo or duo performers. Few of the artists strayed far from home territory, preferring to explore familiar themes of visual performance, specifically archetypal and stereotypical social images, rather than considering the formal vocabulary of dance. The dominant vocabulary in the performances was visual, obviously because the identity of archetypes and stereotypes is signaled by codified costumes, grooming and gestures. Consequently, visual and audio props, which are generally secondary and supportive in dance as dance, took a primary role in these performances. Raphael Bendahan, Denis Farley and Suzanne Valotaire all integrated some dance movements into their choreography, but only the latter used them exclusively to carry the content of her piece. The presence of this piece in the series clarifies some of the differences between visual and dance performance.
Tanya Rosenberg, a.k.a. Tanya Mars, very successfully pushed costumes past drag to “gender fucking”. Transvestite drag embraces gender stereotyping which is in fact the source of its sexual charge. When “gender fucking” though, men wear lace and women black leather because they are either unimpressed by or critical of the sexual stereotyping of clothing. Using this as a base, Mars examined the power relations inherent in men’s clothing and such male attributes as revolvers, shot guns, baseball bats and demolition weights. These attributes of male power become instruments of humiliation in the first part of Nine Lives. Mars and Odette Oliver played two soldiers identically dressed in army fatigues, but despite this and Mars’ naïve professions of faith in the ideals of comradeship, she met several cartoon deaths at the hands of Oliver, once beaten to death with the over-sized baseball bat, several times shot and finally knocked out by a one-tone demolition weight. In the second part, Mars reversed this approach and mimicked a little girl singing and skipping rope while still dressed as a soldier. Oliver, still in the role of a soldier, alternated between expressing desire and exercising power, now intoning, “Want some candy little girl?” and then menacing her. In the end, the little girl followed a path of candies while picking up the instruments of her previous persona’s humiliation to die in the explosion of a pink-ribboned booby-trap.
The overall effect of these cartoon parables was clear-sighted irony. The power relationships between two men or between a solider and a little girl are essentially the same; those in power have no reason to relinquish it no matter how faithful a comrade may be or well-trained a little girl.
Body movement was an element of this performance only in terms of regimented gestures such as marching and saluting. mars approached the body literally as the carrier of meaning, meaning being contained in the costumes and accoutrements of her gender reversals. No doubt Mars chose the stereotypes of contemporary men, soldiers in Asia, to avoid the schmaltz and nostalgia evident in male transvestite drag of movie stars. The only weakness of Nine Lives was the well-produced but slick sound track; a distraction from the severity and burlesque of the performance.