I’m not a dancer. But if I was? Step, step step sliiiiiide, schwoosh step step. Breathe. Turn, punch, step step stop, look. Flick, flick flick, stop. Look, I’m not a dancer, but it’s always my favorite bit in any show I do – when I get to stop speaking and just move my body. And work and work and work and sweat and animal and let it pour right out of me and heart thumps and I’m alive I’m alive I’m dancing I’m alive I’m dancing!
Well, not really dancing. I’m not a dancer. But I’m doing something. My body is doing something and it feels… It feels more alive than anything else has felt recently. Like you haven’t really realised you’ve been on stand-by and suddenly you’re turned on? Yes, turned on. It is sexy (because it’s present and honest and playful, like all the best sex is?!). It’s primal. It’s body and movement and breath and... And really hard to put into words! I won’t really be able to but I’m having a go. Writing words about movement. Ok. Mmmmm yes, inhale, exhale, step step woooosh, look, gasp, thrash thrash thrash inhale swiiiiiing step. Learning to take root. To stand tall. To dance.
Romeo and Juliet Movement Director Ayse Tashkiran's provoking a new thought pattern: not ‘manly’ and ‘girly’ but simply thinking shapes, and space and attitude. Choosing when to be wide and when to be narrow. When to enjoy those slinky spirals. When to stand firm in those broad shapes. (We’re still so funny about gender, aren’t we?! It’s 2018 and yet it still feels safer to put ourselves in boxes?) Inhale, exhale, step. Breathe, think about speed, agility, balance. Jab jab cross. Slip slip double-jab. Fight Director Kate Waters' calling out, Again Charlie again, really land that punch, don’t be shy! Strong legs. Open heart, breathe hard, land soft. Hard, to be honest, not to just write a public love letter to Ayse and Kate but f**k it, they’re brilliant, and I for one am very grateful to have them on board.
See, I’m on a journey (as most women are?) of learning to love this skin I live in. The lies I learnt young (your physical attraction is your currency…all successful actresses are skinny… carbs are the enemy…thin is beautiful…blahblahblah) are stubborn buggers to shake off. The long walk from “What will they think?” to “I am enough” takes time (keep going, you’re doing good!) And Mercutio requires a confidence I don’t easily access everyday. Women are taught to be pretty and passive and polite and suddenly I’ve got the job of being exactly the opposite, in public, on a big ole stage. I’ve needed help taking up space. I’ve needed those cheeky provocations from women daring me to break the rules (god I love this part - she’s such a rule breaker!). I’ve needed encouragement to be bigger, bolder, brighter.
Ayse and Kate have done just that for me, from the inside out. Their work begins with the performer's body, with my beautiful messy insides. Encouraging the shapes my skin naturally wants to make, using that as a place to grow from, rather than just teaching me alien choreography. Movement that’s invested in how it feels rather than how it looks (and then tidied up a bit later). What a revolutionary way to make work, and what a gift to a performer like me who sometimes gets stuck comparing my insides to other people's outsides. They remind me to breathe, keep breathing, go again, yes, again, again again!
Stand tall, take root with all the women that have come before. Their work allows you this chance to be here. Women usually don’t get to do this! They’re letting me do this?! I’m doing this! Look at me, here, strong, powerful, fearless. (Fearless? I reckon that’s a myth by the way. And a dangerous one. Ain't no one ever ‘fearless’, just maybe sometimes the love is louder.) I’m learning it takes real strength to be vulnerable, to let yourself be seen. Look at me, look at them looking at me, they’re looking at me. Mercutio demands being looked at, and sometimes under this male gaze I’d frankly really rather not be. But then I borrow someone’s sass, exhale, practise gratitude for my body. Thank you thank you thank you. Thank you powerful thighs, thank you jiggly belly, thank you pump-pump-pumping heart. I am here I am moving I am sweating (a lot) I am human I am alive. Dancer Pina Bausch wasn’t interested in how people move but by what moves them. Good old Pina, what a babe!
Sometimes my skin still stings under that male gaze spotlight. Policing your own desirability in the attempt to navigate misogyny and gain access to privilege, not for vanity but always in the interest of safety. Am I safe, being seen like this, is this ok, am I ok? “Men’s eyes were made to look.” Constantly policing my own desirability, balancing that thin line between Not Enough (gets you nothing and nowhere) and Too Much (she was asking for it). Why does the world want women to be smaller? I have more conversations with actresses about diets than I do about the script. The temptation to be thin shrinks more than your appetite. I can’t be creative when I’m hungry. With male critics reviewing more than your performance (does my body get five stars?), no wonder we struggle to take up space. Up here on this mighty big stage, tryna tell a story and that monkey in my brain’s banging on about patriarchy again. Shhh monkey shhhhhh. “Men’s eyes were made to look...” Maybe. But Shakespeare (and Ayse and Kate) suggests I shake all that off and borrow some boldness. “…so let ‘em gaze.” Try on male privilege for size, yeah, feels good. Take up more space, go on I dare ya. “I will not budge for no man's pleasure...”
And we’re back to the words again, just telling a story, just doing my job. This might be “a man’s world”, and Mercutio might be “a man’s part” but today it’s mine, I’m blessed with the opportunity. And perhaps some people won’t like seeing a woman comfortable with both ‘f**king and fighting’ (she’s a bit saucy innit). Perhaps that’s not my job to worry about. Perhaps I should stop thinking about what I think other people think about me. The daily battle with body image bullshit is actually so boring. I’m done with it. Come on body time to dance. Back in the groove, movin’ and groovin’. Switch your brain off and get sweaty. Inhale, exhale, step. Thank you Ayse and Kate for helping me feel braver in my body. Thank you for provoking such a glorious sweaty freedom. It feels sooooo delicious. Maybe that’s the trick - how wonderful life would be if we focused more on how it feels to move rather than how it looks. Bodies don’t lie. Theatre is live. They’re looking so let ‘em see you, and they might see themselves.
Five inspiring things this month:
1. Hofesh Shechter’s ‘SHOW’
2. Linares vs Lomachenko
3. Janelle Monae – ‘Make Me Feel’
4. Jill Soloway’s ‘Female Gaze’ speech
5. Dominique Mercy screaming at the audience in ‘Nelken’