I was reminded of a destined-to-become-infamous incident from 1984, when the choreographer Mark Morris rose from the audience during a performance of Twyla Tharp’s “Nine Sinatra Songs,” yelled “No more rape!” and exited the theater.
Mr. Morris’s response to the stylized violence (in “That’s Life,” a woman in evening wear is flung about and manhandled by her tux-wearing companion) sounded over the top when I first read about it. But since then I have watched far too many performances that have featured the brutal handling of women — always artfully cloaked, of course.
Unfortunately, this ugly phenomenon hasn’t subsided, and there it was again on Wednesday, during the American premiere of the Mimulus Dance Theater's “Por um Fio” (“By a Thread”). The four women in the nine-member ensemble are repeatedly in chokeholds, their muscular male partners handling them by their necks as they move through athletic combinations infused by social dance traditions.
The men almost always are leading throughout this hourlong dance, manipulating their willing partners like so many pieces of virtuosic clay. They grasp the women’s faces at times, with palms and fingers settling like masks. As the men sling and hoist their partners about, the women’s bodies go to extremes: either appearing rigid, or limp as rag dolls. At other times they respond by kicking and struggling, but never with real resistance.
Mark Morris, once a bad boy banned from American Dance Festival for his "no more rape" outburst, is now perhaps the world's leading choreographer (and, according to Wendy Lesser of Threepenny Review, the leading provocateur, too). But Nine Sinatra Songs, although cleverly composed and elegant in Tharp's slinky way, did often turn women into objects, sometimes to be desired, but seemingly more often to be used, tossed around, stepped over,. Dramatic but troubling, and, natch, Tharp's most popular ballet (according ot the Miami City Ballet).
Why must our culture must rely on the sensitivity of a gay man to protest the rape of women? Because if a woman was to protest, that would be a lack of objectivity?