HELLERAU – European Center for the Arts Dresden, 3 May 2018
Performance time: 50 minutes
What does it mean to be a woman?
This is a universal question as ever – and just as relevant today, if not more (also in view of the #MeToo debate), as it was 15 years ago when Cristina Moura first performed her solo “like an idiot” in Rio de Janeiro. It was an honor to watch her perform at HELLERAU – European Center for the Arts Dresden on 3 May 2018, as an opening to the Dance Festival “Me, Myself and I.” Cristina Moura, a black Brazilian dancer and choreographer from Rio de Janeiro, in her late forties – an age at which most dancers have already ended their careers as professional dancers – and while in a different physical shape than when in her mid-thirties, with a body shape that speaks of womanhood, motherhood, she is still a striking appearance – clearly the body of an extraordinarily talented dancer, with smooth movements like those of a panther.
At the beginning of the performance – after clarifying her and the audience’s roles (“I’m here and I dance, you sit here and watch”) – Cristina Moura pulls up her long-sleeved shirt, first one sleeve, then the other, wrapping it elegantly around her curls and turning it into a decorative headscarf – unveiling at the same time a sheer cotton tank top – which, together with black dance briefs, were her costume for the entire performance, except for a short velvet strap dress intermittently thrown over during some of the last sequences.
One could try to analyze the performance chronologically, the start and end of sequences mostly announced by a new piece of score (musical concept: Beat Halberschmidt and Cristina Moura; original music by Beat Halberschmidt) and light accents (lighting design: Sergio Pessanha), or highlighted by one of the props scattered across the otherwise empty stage, their purpose often only making sense when put to use: a blank sheet of paper Cristina Moura rips into a scrap doll with eyes, mouth and dreadlocks; a bottle of water she sips from to squirt out jolly and surprisingly far-reaching fountains from between her teeth while moving in large circles, imitating the slanted, wavering pace of a drunkard; a red toy car (previously covered by the velvet dress) pimped with a portable boombox and on which she is rolling across the stage, cruising imaginative streets while, wearing pink children’s sunglasses, seductively and playfully eyeing and hitting on imaginative men, flirting with the audience; a vanity mirror with which she is reenacting the scurrile reality of a persistent obsession with beauty and physical optimization; a pebble in her hand, hit on the floor and finally dropped to the ground, evoking associations of violence, childbirth, or miscarriage; or simply the stage wall against which she stands with her back turned to the audience, jiggling her hips to demonstrate well-formed buttocks, when without a moment’s notice the shaking shifts to a relentless, rough, self-absorbed thrusting of an imaginative woman until male satisfaction is audibly and visibly reached (clichéd, maybe, but a statement nevertheless), at which point Cristina Moura turns to face the audience, a mocking, sardonic look on her face (the look – priceless!) – and triggering a snort from the gentleman sitting next to me.
What makes the performance so intriguing is how Cristina Moura’s dance movements carry the language of the piece, which really conveys the emotions, state of mind and soul in this quest for identity – with her hands and feet always serving as carefully applied punctuation marks to the body movements, her expressive face radiating both the beauty of a strong woman and that of a playful, coy young girl. A particularly touching sequence came when towards the end of the performance she sits cross-legged on a stool, moving a trembling hand to her face and prying it away again, an expressively choreographed sequence of elegant arm and hand movements, her face and eyes telling more than words could ever say, while Bob Marley’s “No Woman No Cry” was playing. Here, she impressively performed a woman’s struggle to be strong, not to cry, “to hold on for another day,” exposing her vulnerability in a way that felt more intense than some other, more explicit sequences.
When returning for the thrilled audience’s ovations, Cristina Moura reappeared with her hair uncovered again – making her even more beautiful and unique a woman, and more vulnerable and strong at the same time.
The quest of one’s identity seems to be a recurring theme in one’s life – especially a woman’s life, I daresay – and with different ages different perspectives emerge. A question I have been thinking about is, what must it have been like for Cristina Moura herself to perform her solo again being the woman she is now as opposed to when she first performed it 15 years ago – what kind of thoughts and experiences are on her mind today as opposed to back then?