Photo by Eric Melzer
Does the audience place itself on stage and if so, where? Do many of us fancy to see ourselves as the performers? What can an artist do to invite this participation? And…exactly what is a femme fatale?
The untitled work that Theresa Madaus created and performed at 9×22 Dance Lab at Bryant Lake Bowl Theater in March opened up these questions as the curtain drew back on an empty stage, the space filling with an eager voice yearning to catapult herself on stage – shoving aside folks seated in her path, if necessary – to get as close as possible, become one with, to be the performer. Expectation mounted. Eyebrows raised. Heads swiveled, looking out for potential ambush.
Two heroes entered, clad in polyester, patterns, knickers. Scarves draped in close-to-sincere bravado. A couple of boyish ladies? Girlish boys? Women in drag? These are labels the mind might scrape around for. Point is, their shorts had a determined squareness about them – were almost supporting cast members in their own right. A cameo was made by curtain-turned-object-of-desire as Megan Mayer magnetized to and became rather fond of the hunk of fabric hanging from stage right.
Although this snippet of work shown in a performance lab setting didn’t nail down an overt plot or indicate a specific message, noticeable conventions came through. A soft-wink humor was established through restrained, specific movements that were indicative without grand exertion; like a cartoonishly emphasized wind-up that unleashes a tiny tap vs. a monster-sized whack. Exaggeration – while subtle – suggested importance in that it softened any hint of furrowed-brow seriousness. A metal oscillating fan was grasped and employed to blast already amusingly teased hair into a exclamation point atop a blank face. As if for no apparent reason at all other than to self-satirize, or nudge out a chuckle or two. The very picture of a joke told with a dry sense of humor. Madaus and Mayer exhibited a refined ability to hold a specific volume of camp without letting even a drop spill over into being ludicrous or wild. The ability to matter-of-factly deliver a punch line that spreads into a broad, knowing smile between the ears it lands upon. Campy restraint. Subtle vamping.
Madaus’ sketch – with its slight camp/vamp vibe – led me to Wikipedia femme fatale and what I found seems apropos as a jump-off point for a completely new redefinition: “A femme fatale character in movies or books is a woman who has a certain allure…In drama, the vamp is the sexual counterpoint for the naive, wholesome ingenue character. In musicals or opera, the sultry lower mezzo-soprano voice of the vamp character.” Curious to see where she takes these characters and to see how this sketch gets colored in. Even Madaus’ early take on work teases enough to plant a taste for a follow-up chuckle, or at least another wry smirk.