Content warning: This article contains descriptions of graphic violence.
At the center of the stage, one woman rode a large brown and white mechanical bull decorated with the nude female bodies. One woman straddled the bull as the other was laid face down over the front and endured spanking from the woman behind her. On the other side of the stage, an assumed hostess was holding a long needle and hammer — this was where the madness really begins. The woman began to nail the needle through her nose using the hammer. All of this was happening as eerie music became the soundtrack to the performance. In the background was an easy-to-forget backdrop of a blue sky and clouds.
The described stage was from Choreographer Florentina Holzinger’s “Apollon,” which ran Feb. 22-23 at NYU Skirball. Designed to shock audiences, the show intended to present a new narrative on what should be considered the perfect woman. The performance was described as a provocative middle-finger to patriarchy and a celebration of the female anatomy with some inspiration taken from Balanchine’s “Apollo.”
The unpredictability of the show filled the theater with an intense anxiety that some relished in while others shielded their eyes and curled away. As the show progressed, the female daredevils on stage pushed their bodies to the limit without the shield of clothing or helmets. However, how much the show ignored sensitivity with its humorous moments was disappointing. Typical comedy tends to include a good amount of shock value and appropriately pushes the limits, but this show taught me that there is such a thing as going too far.
In a Mario Kart-esque mustache and plastic red fire hat, one of the actresses barrelled down the steps from the back of the house onto the stage holding a giant gun. She proceeds to point the gun at various people in the audience as she plays out her skit set in the “Wild Wild West.” At one moment as she was pointing the gun at audience members in the center of the house, she made a joke about being out of clips as some audience members flinched, expecting to hear a bang from the gun. The presence of guns made the entire experience uncomfortable to watch. As the skit continued, the woman mimicked the act of cutting off her arm resulting in blood gushing from it and covering her entire body. The actor then staggered down from the stage into the audience as blood dripped onto the carpet and patrons sitting in the aisle seats, who looked absolutely mortified. Disgusted by all these sights, I walked out, watching the remainder of the performance on the TV screens in the lobby.
The show provided a whirlwind of emotions, but not the kind anyone wants to think about afterward. To some, the bit about the gun was comedic. For me, flashbacks to headlines about school shootings and accidental deaths of young kids due to carelessness crossed my mind. Some audience members marveled at the blood spilling onto the stage, whereas others, including myself, went light-headed and had to find air outside of the theater doors. Watching the women lift weights, lift each other and prance around in pointe shoes somehow made me feel less empowered; the show just exploited the female dancers and did not say anything more. Overall, the combination of an “occult fitness studio, cyborg-bullfight and the neoclassical ballet ‘Apollo’” onstage sounded better on paper than how it felt in the theater.
Somewhere between the outlandish tactics of pooping into a glass jar in front of an audience and swallowing a long pink balloon whole, I tried my best but could no longer grasp the meaning of the show. I instead began to wonder what making art like this, with an all-female and all-white cast laughing while cutting their bodies and pointing a gun at the heads of audience members means. Maybe if the show grounded itself more in the feminist storyline written in the brochure I would have connected to it differently. Mortified by what I saw, I can say that this show was not a middle finger to the patriarchy, but rather a performance that tried too hard to be provocative, resulting in a degrading, triggering piece of art.
Email Destine Manson at [email protected]