More bodily contemplation – Bodies in Urban Spaces and the Bangkok Lady Boys….

So more bodily related tales… what else have I seen recently? An enchanting, magical and thought provoking experience…. bodies in urban spaces which ran as part of Mayfest is still very much fresh in my mind. The good thing about suddenly discovering ‘live art’ is that every experiences holds magic for me.

I met several people at Mayfest  that seemed to know it all. Everything about drama and art, everything about the industry, had studied everything for years or knew someone who knew someone who obviously knew everything.. Perhaps its the same with critics. You begin to build your expectations of what you want. Of what you think other people want. Of what is good and what is bad. . You stop seeing things with an open mind. Perhaps this is what happens to those that benefit from arts education. You are educated in the art of criticism and expectation. I have the distinct advantage of knowing very little about how to interpret things. I just well, use myself. For better or for worse. Raw. That’s all.

So what of these bodies. I had no idea what was in store. Meeting in Montpeiller park the ‘bodies’ (19 of them I think) clad in multicolour lycra and sweats ran ahead of us to take various positions as we walked through the city: Bus shelters, driveways, door frames. Whilst the agility, patience and amazing flexibility alone was highly impressive, one of the most powerful things of the experience for me was the running. As you passed one group of bodies the next would run ahead, within, around, through.

We were surrounded by neon elves. Magic ones. The traditional spatial boundaries were dissolved and new possibilities were created. Turn a corner, two bodies, colour. Was that a body? It didn’t really look like a body..? sometimes times it was a big pile of feet. Like a psychedelic caterpillar had keeled over and died. No end. No beginning. Just feet.

The trail took us to parts of the city I certainly didn’t know about.  Abandoned places, forlorn spaces. Where you wouldn’t normally look. Places you just didn’t notice.  Ugly places. Made beautiful and noticeable with bodies in them. The physical agility of the performers was commendable as it was surely a testing and trying spectacle to be part of. They look tried by the end. They squeezed. Strained. Squashed. Stood firm in doorways.

We started off a small group of spectators but finished as a crowd. It was magical. I wanted to cry when it was over.  It wasn’t really dance. It was kind of exhibition. But not. It didn’t feel like traditional devised theatre. What was it?

More photos of the day can be found here:

I am rapidly coming to the conclusions that the best form of theatre is that which cannot be easily defined.

The memory will live with me for a long time. The body was the focus of the performance and a few weeks later I attended something quite different.. but again the role of the body was central.

Now. Here this. A performance by the Bangkok Lady boys is not something I would normally think about going to see..purely because I crave a deeper emotional experience nowadays..  I had seen them once before (the seats we were given were terrible) but my housemate offered me a free ticket (a corporate thing) so I thought I would go again.

The Bangkok Lady boys were to be honest a cut above your average drag act. The dancing was sharp. The production was high quality and high energy. The acting, mimicry and generally tomfoolery was suitable hammish and Benny Hill’esq. Stereotypes were enforced, jokes were crude. In general the audience loved it and paid on average a slightly high price for tickets, food and drink at the venue. It certainly seems to be a bit of a money spinner.

Now I’ve read a few reviews of the show since which have been entertaining, some positive in favour of what was admittedly, despite its crassness a jolly good show. Another which was a little disparaging of the performance on the basis that the author simply preferred women to men dressed as women.  This got me thinking: why do we go to see drag shows?

Fascination. People go to see drag acts simply to see the boundaries of physical normality moved. The Ladyboys, are more ladies than boys, in their looks, their movements their gestures. It was quite phenomenal how feminine and outright beautiful they looked, with the help of plastic surgery, corsets, feathers and an awful lot of max factor they were jaw dropingly gorgeous. You would rarely have thought they were anything other than women.

I’ts also a genuinely good laugh. If you don’t take it too seriously and can bear the political incorrectness which is prevalent throughout.  If I am honest, despite the fact these gender blurred bodies are painted, corseted and commodified, despite the fact the show is often cringeworthy in parts, despite the fact the miming is questionable and the tickets overpriced… I went to enjoy the dancing, and the big disco numbers, the feathers and the greasepaint..  but mainly I realise that in a world were the body is considered  as so important, and the idea of gender so often viewed as defined by sex, that to challenge these norms, to me is an act of bravery of the highest kind. To change your body to that degree is a significant feat, and whilst the bright lights and music perhaps make entertainment of these bodies, it maybe wise to question what it is like to be a ladyboy outside of the role. The humour makes things more comfortable to accept perhaps. At times it’s almost as if  it’s a strange kind of revenge over the audience as the most stereotypical alpha male is dragged up on stage and humiliated. Feel uncomfortable in the audience boys? Is that not the idea?

When comparing the two performances, the Bangkok Lady Boys do not come out on top. Next to anything that Mayfest produced  it’s like comparing apples and pears. However, I conclude that any person, a man or women, has a right to perform their art to whatever degree they wish. We live in a society where the body is situated as fundementally so important, and my final thought is this:  The Lady Boys have, as individuals, each been  compelled to redefine who they are both physically and mentally to a significant and life changing extent. Following this, they are also brave enough to stand on the stage in celebration of their choices. So it is this, in my opinion, is something that always deserves my applause… Good on’ em.

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