“She acts like a scientist, putting a part under a microscope for examination and experimentation. She unpacks the history of coding and the connections between the body part and the process of identification, subjection, and objectification… Ultimately, Urban Bush Women moves toward putting the black female body back together, healing the old wounds and creating more complete positive images of black women.” (37-38)
· Laura Mulvey talks about how the male gaze breaks down the female form into its desirable parts, taking a fully formed individual and turning her into a collection of eroticized body parts based on the sexual desires of the male audience. So I found it interesting how George-Graves turned this vivisection on its ear, using fixation on individual body parts as a process of empowerment, rather than objectification. It occurred to me that dance is a logical art form in which to counter the male gaze, as it is the art form most essentially intertwined with the body. The dances described put the spotlight on the processes of objectification, and hopefully begin a dialogue among the dancers and the audience about the effects thereof, but they don’t always present a neat and tidy solution. I loved the discussion of high heeled shoes and lipstick – how they were used as illustrations of the shaping and marking of the female body – in particular the black female body: “The markers of femininity are commodities, according to this piece, to be bought and sold. These girls buy and wear desire. Soon, however, reality confronts fantasy, and the women are left with a confused sense of themselves. Violence has been done.” (116) In her essay “Selling Hot Pussy,’ bell hooks points out the eroticization and animalization of the black female body by the white male hegemony, noting how completely the black woman is othered, but also how she is expected to find ways to conform with ideals of white beauty in order to keep her animal sexuality from running wild. But she also notes how someone like Tina Turner was able to find power in this sexuality. I thought about bell hooks’s work a lot as I was reading about the Urban Bush Women. Their celebration of the black female body feels like a reclamation and a declaration – confronting the forces that would rob them of their individuality and identity. Since the black female body has been so intensely written upon by history, the dance theatre of the Urban Bush Women seems a logical place for wrighting (to use Rossini’s term) their place in the world. In particular, I was moved by the discussion of hands – how the terminology of hands was so much a part of the language of slavery, and how those same hands have the power to take back history and tell a different story. “I argue that by creating characters who exist in alternate realities and characters who represent entire populations, the company is attempting to rewrite master narratives. The characters push against the gaps of history and narrative and challenge us to move beyond stereotypical and limiting images of black women. These dances are exercises of agency over the stories of black women and the languages with which they are communicated.” (72) So piece by piece, limb by limb, body by body, the Urban Bush Women come together to tell stories in a way that makes their dance something more than dance. The incorporation of language and song; personal expression and technique; memory and history all come together in something less literary than theatre and more narrative than dance.