Battling with the feminine body –Sturgis and Lamont in The Land of Her
One of the great things about being a reviewer – particularly at Fringe - is getting to see shows you would never normally get to see. While sometimes you might come across something a bit niche, often you bump into something beautifully thought-provoking.
Just a short walk from Warren Street tube station on Monday night, in the intimate Camden People’s Theatre, Natasha Sturgis and Ivy Lamont performed two consecutive solo pieces, exploring representations of the feminine body through physical theatre and dance.
Sturgis was up first. Collaborating with animation artist Stephanie Balchin, Sturgis’s mesmerising dance piece has her tying herself in knots as the body she inhabits seems to conflict with her own consciousness. With minimal staging, the music and animation behind Sturgis as she moves stands out. With a bow and a roaring applause from the audience, Sturgis is replaced by Lamont and a cloud of dry ice. Lamont changes the vibe. Dressed a lot like any undergrad girl in a student house – little top, oversized open flannel and tracksuit bottoms – Lamont feels immediately relatable. Hiding from the audience behind the dry ice and her own hand, she breaks the fourth wall and suddenly we feel like we’ve entered this girl’s bedroom. It feels intimate and verges on the invasive as she flits between looking at herself in the mirror and discussing potential cosmetic surgery with a faraway surgeon.
Both pieces show us the stresses and strains women’s bodies face in our society. There is a simultaneous violence and gentility to Sturgis’s movement which seems as equally and appropriately contradictory as the simultaneous violence women’s bodies (rape culture; childbirth) face while they’re expected to remain soft and nurturing. One thing that jumped out to me is the relationship behind the female body as child and the female body as adult. In Sturgis’s piece, the eerie crackling of static music behind her as she dances feels distinctly nineties: a throwback to the days of trying to fit the video into the VCR and only seeing lines buzzing back at you from the screen. Or, if you’re a nineties kid like me, maybe it reminds us of the time when we, as children, had no idea about the politicisation our bodies would eventually have to endure - whether we are male, female or somewhere in between. In Lamont’s piece, she calls for a return to childhood – to a time when her body felt simpler:
When make up was just a fancy arts and crafts set, and being pretty meant you wore flowers in your hair
Maybe it’s my feminism making me scat as usual but I worry for young girls. I hope their bodies won’t be politicised in the way ours have been and continue to be whether it’s in discussions of pro-life/pro-choice, #MeToo or Body Positivity. When you remember that every woman who is judged or catcalled or objectified was once a little girl in the playground, I know – for me – it makes me angry. Sturgis and Lamont definitely pull successfully on the heartstrings by reminding us to be kinder to ourselves and to each other; ultimately, we were all children once.
Lamont’s piece goes on to critique the ethics of cosmetic surgery. On one hand, in a non-judgemental society, whether somebody goes under the knife is absolutely their choice. But it’s also important to remember that cosmetic surgery is not a sure-fire fix-it-all solution to low self esteem and body issues. In Lamont’s piece, her character tells us that she has never been happy with the way her nose looks and that her small chest inhibits her from feeling ‘womanly’. Clearly apprehensive, she’s effectively talked into surgery by this faceless, faraway surgeon and I’m left feeling like the surgeon is an amalgamation of Instagram culture, Love Island bikini girls and unhealthy fashion magazines all rolled into one that say don’t worry, it’s a quick fix and all your self esteem issues will be solved. Wrong.
Both pieces seem to address and critique the narratives around which we talk about feminine bodies. In Sturgis’s piece, the animation behind her asks us to define, reclaim, be kind and redefine, suggesting definitions are a crucial part of this narrative. This alongside Lamont’s insecurity about feeling ‘womanly’ made me think about label culture, pronouns and the LGBTQ community. Some people complain that there’s a label for everything these days but Sturgis’s comment on the importance of definitions reminds us that these labels are often a necessary part of someone understanding and expressing their identity.
define, reclaim, be kind and redefine
In two thought-provoking solo pieces, The Land of Her analyses the complexity of issues around women’s bodies and self-esteem. In a culture that politicises and judges, often the greatest rebellion is self-acceptance. The Land of Her is a champion of self-acceptance and I look forward to seeing where Natasha Sturgis and Ivy Lamont go next.