Image by Lauren Frank
Five pots in various earthy tones are placed in a formation on the stage: blue, brown, green, red, and orange. One is placed at the downstage center position of the stage, one is upstage and slightly to the right of center, one far stage left, and the last two are close to each other far stage right. The pots create a frame around the stage for the dancer. She is dressed in a patterned long-sleeved printed top with abstract animal prints. The green and brown tones evoke the image of a jungle. Her small tight shorts match the pattern of her top, and a mid-thigh length black skirt is draped over her waist. The dancer positions her body around the pot with her legs in a squatting position. Her thighs make a protective cove around the pot as she reaches up to her head.
She slowly pulls the hair tie out of her hair, which tumbles out of a tight bun. Her focus goes to the audience as she scans the small crowd, holding eye contact with a few of the spectators. Keeping the intensity of her gaze, she slowly reaches into the pot and lifts out a tube of red lipstick. Her gaze drops to the lipstick as she uncaps it and routinely applies it to her lips. But as she moves to put the lipstick back into the pot, she uncaps it once again. This time, her right pointer finger rubs on the top of the lipstick. Taking her intense focus back to the audience, she draws her finger up to her mouth and places it in the center of her lower lip. Slowly and deliberately, she drags her finger straight down the center of her chin, creating a bright red line from her lips to the bottom of her chin. She caps the lipstick and puts it back in the pot, taking a moment of stillness to stare out into the audience. —Babae
For Her is a performance combining contemporary dance, hip-hop, Southeast Asian folk dance, jazz musicians, and pop music. Two artists, Joy Alpuerto-Ritter and Tiffany Lytle, explore ideas of power and agency for women through each of their solo pieces.
The performance begins with Alpuerto-Ritter’s solo entitled Babae, which is the Filipino word for woman. The piece is a reinterpretation of German modern dancer Mary Wigman’s Witch Dance. The movement Alpuerto-Ritter uses is extremely physically intense, and even when she jumps, she somehow stays grounded into the floor. As an audience member watching her dance, I went through a profound experience–her dancing filled the small stage and her energy overflows into the audience. At one point in the dance, she reaches into a pot and scoops out bright red glitter. She takes the glitter and rubs in into her hair, shaking her head and covering the stage with a dust of red. From the intense grounded movement, to the lipstick application and the red glitter, she embodies a struggle with the ideas of performing femininity and identity.
After the intermission, Tiffany Lytle presents her work. In Qnoum Kaun Khmer/I am a Cambodian Child, she explores traditional Cambodian dance together with pop music as a way to portray her experience as the child of a Cambodian refugee and a woman living in America. Costuming is a big part of her dance, and she changes her clothes as she expresses different parts of her identity. Through obvious choices, like switching between a shirt with an American flag and traditional Cambodian attire, Lytle makes a statement about living in diaspora. She not only dances to the live music, but sings as well. Some of her most impactful lyrics are, “She can never be free from misogyny in the land of the free,” and “How can we channel this pain to combat his glory?”
Though Alpuerto-Ritter presents a more abstracted view and Lytle presents a more literal one, both women powerfully explore women’s lives and embody the process of finding strength while being torn between more than one place in the world.
For Her was performed on November 30 and December 1, 2018. If you are interested in viewing more dance, experimental theater, or live music, I recommend checking out Highways Performance Space. It is a small venue with an attached art gallery space, and it is only a short drive from the UCLA campus.