Though the “male gaze” typically implies perceiving women simply as sexual objects, a local modern dance company is spinning its own twist on the phrase – while dismantling its implications, too.
For more than 30 years, Pennsport native Anne-Marie Mulgrew, a graduate of St. Maria Goretti High School, has been utilizing site-specific contemporary dance, coupled with other performance and multimedia art, to spark conversation.
Since 1986, the dancer has led the South Philly-based Anne-Marie Mulgrew and Dancers Company through thought-provoking works in spaces spanning from alleyways to museums.
“Our formal mission is to educate and involve the public in the creation and performance of new interdisciplinary dance works,” Mulgrew said.
The company’s latest project, “From the Feminine Gaze,” which runs June 14 and 15 at the Performance Garage, 1515 Brandywine St., explores the convolution of womanhood by juxtaposing the nearly 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment’s ratification, granting women the right to vote, with current issues women face today.
Like the multifaceted nature of women, the performance itself is not confined to one medium of expression, as it not only features dance but also short films.
The choreography itself acts quite correspondingly.
“I think (Mulgrew) is taking different aspects of femininity or feminists power and different ways that people perceive that or maybe how we think about our own femininity,” said dancer Leslie Ann Pike. “Each piece has a different feel about it.”
The assemblage of minute dances, ensembles, duets and solo acts embraces a range of motion, sometimes bold, other times timid, and music, sometimes staccato, other times adagio.
This similarly alludes to the dimensions of women.
In tackling Mulgrew’s choreography, company members say their approach to the material has pushed them outside of the conventional realm of dance, which echoes experiences they’ve encountered as women.
“Finding that connection for me is taking a little bit of time,” said dancer Alissa Johann. “But, I think, even if it’s something that you’re not comfortable with in dance or outside of it, women always push forward. And, that’s something I’m currently taking away from this.”
After creating a whimsical piece last season, Mulgrew says, looking ahead, she wanted to produce a project slightly more “proactive” amidst current headlines.
Since 2019 marks a century since women were granted the right to vote, Mulgrew thought it’d be curious to concurrently consider, perhaps, their rights being jeopardized today.
“Have things really changed or have they not really changed? I don’t know,” she said. “But it’s just bringing awareness, and it’s up to the individual, the viewer, to make their own statement.”
One segment, which is a tango piece, unveils the complexity of women, as it contrasts sensual movement with light blue costumes that suggest innocence.
Others moments are more indirectly related to today’s political climate, like the last piece, “Skirting.” The dance involves the performers slightly on edge, which, perhaps suggests, the majority of people’s visceral response to politics these days.
“A lot of people are skirting the issues,” Mulgrew said. “They’re almost colliding, but they’re not in terms of the world we live in.”
The company stresses the ambiguity of the movement and the performance in general.
For example, in one solo performed by Mulgrew, she gradually and gracefully strips off a long, white flowing skirt, which could imply a multitude of meanings, such as gender roles.
“I think dance, in general, is a great way to express any kind of message,” Pike said. “The audience is always going to take it their own way and get something different out of it, but depending on your connection to the movement and how you portray it, you’re always telling some kind of story and hopefully making somebody feel something, so even if they’re not walking away with a message, it’s a feeling. Something that makes them think.”
Featuring several artists, the performance will include a piece by guest dancer Ashley Searles, who is performing Asya Zlatina’s duet from “Storm” (2017) with Colin Murray.
The dances will also be accompanied by a few short films acting as an extension of the themes evoked in the movement.
These films, which were produced by Carmella Vassor-Johnson, Francesca Costanzo and Stan Sadowski, explore the “feminine gaze” with visuals, such as capturing the eyes of women around City Hall or videoing females of all body types and races walking into a frame.
“(Mulgrew) is very explorative and very imaginative,” Johann said. “She thinks outside of the box, which is really awesome, I think. It’s not like the typical dance performance you would come and see.”
Mulgrew says the intention behind including these films rests in highlighting a range of women who exist beyond the stage of the Performance Garage.
“Again, it’s about reveal,” Mulgrew said. “Looking into the eyes of the woman. Who are we? How do we present ourselves? Who is the woman today? I wanted that contrast between the everyday women and the performers….We live in a world where we’re not isolated. It’s the world we live in, so how can we impact that world or bring awareness to the world even if there are many interpretations of what you see?”
To purchase tickets, visit www.brownpapertickets.com/event/4235883.