Moving in a gender reversed world

International Women's Day #2

Lucy Cullingford is Movement Director for The Taming of the Shrew. She talks about using movement in a gender-reversed world where women overpower men.

At the beginning of rehearsals I start with the company on ensemble movement sessions. I need to get to know how the actors move; how they respond to movement, how they interpret movement and how they work together. 

The period a play is set hugely informs the ways in which the actors approach their characters' movement. It affects how they carry themselves, how they walk and how they interact. It impose a style on every movement they make, influencing ideas of status, ritual and rules within a society.

Cast in a rehearsal room dancing in formation
Photo by Sam Allard © RSC Browse and license our images

In this period of the Elizabethan era it's imperative to master gestures of curtesy and respect, performed through bows and curtsies. The actors must learn and execute these movements so that they become as habitual as a handshake in contemporary society.

In our gender reversed world these practices were important in order to instil the political hierarchy in the play, but were also used as a play on manners.

A man walking through a doorway with one hand in his hip and the other behind him in a feminine gait
Photo by Sam Allard © RSC Browse and license our images

During rehearsals, we constantly considered the physical codes of gender, sometimes focusing on one specific viewpoint such as:

  • Physical strength
  • Eye contact
  • Spatial relationships
  • Rules of contact and touch under specific situations

I found it very useful to examine these codes through the rules of Italian Renaissance and Elizabethan dance. This gave a set of rules that we could clearly reverse.

For example, in this period men always lead ladies but in our world ladies lead men. Women initiate rather than wait to be told. They command more space than men. They overpower men.

A woman and a man stand opposite each other leaning forward pushing on each others outstretched palms
Photo by Sam Allard © RSC Browse and license our images

In our gender-reversed world men are the paraded sex. They are led, they are gazed upon. Their looks are a power and their dancing is an art to be perfected.

As a creative team with Composer Ruth Chan and Director Justin Audibert we worked to constantly evolve the physical language of our world and the creation of this parallel universe. We use dance as a measure to view our new world order.

A man standing with arms outstretched. Another man stands behind him, hands either side of his head
Photo by Sam Allard © RSC Browse and license our images

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