The Columbia University Performing Arts League is performing Bodies Redefined, an ensemble piece based on the cast’s experiences and reexamines the roles of body and gender through voice work, acting, and dance. The performance will take place tonight and tomorrow night at 8 pm in the Lerner Black Box. Senior Staff Writer Ross Chapman reviews the performance.
Every semester, the Columbia University Performing Arts League offers up a Special Project, a short-form theatrical venture which pushes the limits of the medium. Bodies Redefined, this semester’s effort produced by Lindsey Rubin (GS/JTS ’19) and directed by Antonia Georgieva (CC ’18) and Kosta Karakashyan (CC ’19), continued that tradition of original Columbia avant-garde.
To call Bodies Redefined a play would be difficult at best and dishonest at worst. The five actresses do not take on characters, and the scene structure fails to provide a coherent narrative. The work employs seven scenes and five monologues, ostensibly to “envision what it means to belong to a certain gender and in what ways [the body is] envisioned or transformed through such interactions,” per the directors’ note.
Gendered experience takes center stage in Bodies Redefined. The show draws inspiration (and at times entire scripts) from Ovid, e.e. cummings, and Julia Kristeva to supplement the supremely personal monologues. The ensemble scenes made wide use of dance, indicative of the fact that the film’s two directors focused separately on dance and theater. If the acting in the scenes was overstated to match its source material, the monologues were understated and real. They focus on crying, dreaming, and loving, and take place on bare crates in the center of a 3-walled black box setup. Sitting in the center of the middle section of seats, I felt as though the speakers were truly recounting personal experiences. Whether or not the monologue on catcalling was entirely nonfiction was irrelevant to how deeply it pointed to the feminine experience at Columbia.
Whether or not the event had humor was also hard to decode. The dissonance between a Greek tale and a campfire story, for instance, was palpable and entertaining, but the mood of the scenes before seemed to suppress laughter from the crowd. One scene was overtly humorous, but the brightest jokes alluded to harsh gendered realities. The ambiguity made me wish for something like Latenite’s laugh track to make the difficult scenes easier to digest.
While the show hit the gender nail on the head, it failed to live up to its name by creating commentary on the body. Some of that material may have been hidden into Kristeva’s esoteric text, or in the intricacies of the dance, but the creative team could have done more to highlight the body and its creation and transformation to match their ambitious goals.
Regardless, Bodies Redefined lives up to Special Project’s short legacy of experimentation. Its monologues are powerful, its choreography is imaginative, and its material is quintessentially Columbian, from Lit Hum allusions to campus creeps.
Bodies Redefined will play at 8 pm on Saturday and Sunday in the Lerner Black Box, with tickets available for purchase at the TIC. The runtime is approximately 30 minutes.
Promotional photo via Facebook