Idea/ Choreography/ Performance: Ivan Blagajčević
Dramaturgy: Marisa König Beatty
Outside Eye: Andrea Boll
Costume: Ege Oran
Technical Support: David Baumgartner
Photo: Lukas Beyeler & Patrick Mettraux
Coproduction: Tanzhaus Zürich
XXY is a solo dance performance investigating gender roles and identity through the synthesis of physical theatre and kabuki theatre. Gender is proposed as a performance; it's what we do, rather than who we are.
When an individual takes a different approach to gender performance s/he changes gender norms as well as the understanding of masculinity and femininity. I take inspiration from Judith Butler’s belief that “there is no gender identity behind the expressions of gender; identity is performatively constituted by the very ‘expressions’ that are said to be its results.” Butler believes that the cultural phenomenon of the Drag Queen exposes the performative nature of gender. It "raises some serious questions regarding gender identity: is the man appearing in women's clothes essentially a man in a costume with only the exterior appearance of a woman? Or is it that the overt femininity displayed by him proves that his essence is after all a feminine one, in spite of his male body?" In XXY, the performer who is also a Drag Queen, plays with that understanding through transformations from Drag Queen to man, man to woman, man to Onnagata, Onnagata to Drag Queen, to woman, and so forth.
(Onnagata or oyama -Japanese for “woman role” - are male actors who, according to precise and specific traditional constructs, perform female characters in Japanese Kabuki theatre.)
The marriage of Kabuki and physical theatre came naturally because both forms rely heavily on the body and movement (as opposed to spoken or written word) to depict the transformation from one gender to another. The question is: to what extent is that transformation simply about costumes, make-up, and wigs? Where does it rather begin to rely solely on the movement language?
A unique feature of a Kabuki performance is that what is being staged is often only one part of the entire story. Following similar pattern, XXY takes inspiration from a Haiku written by a monk named Sougi (1421 - 1502) :
That man's life is but a dream -
is what we now come to know.
Its house abandoned,
the garden has become home
XXY mostly references to the second part of the Haiku - the man abandons his ‘assigned gender role’, and is consequently inhabited by a ‘chosen gender role’. This change is presented in stages of transformation. The piece consists of a prologue followed by three chapters that engage movement phrases which are adjusted, transformed and repeated, depending on the stage of the ‘story’.
For the prologue, the Drag Queen waits and interacts with the audience before the show begins, entering the performance space with them to begin the evening. Gradually the Drag Queen removes her makeup and costume, commencing the first chapter of the piece, which concentrates on the minimal and very subtle changes of gender expression. The second chapter begins with a private, ‘one-on-one’ performance within the performance that gradually expands, developing the same movement material into a highly stylized choreography. The third chapter embraces new movement vocabulary that loops in an ecstatic exploration of freedom of individuality.
The purpose of the highly stylized movement vocabulary used in XXY is to convey meaning to an audience. ‘Meaning’ is an important element of the work because of its focus on personal and psychological issues, which are simply and humorously staged. A single male performer carries out the on-stage performance while simultaneously operating the technical aspects of the piece (lights, music, etc.). This approach feeds the environment of physical transformation by dictating the chapter changes, pace and the plot dynamics.
Ivan Blagajčević is a professional dancer, maker, teacher, performer and a Drag Queen. He has studied at Theaterschool Amsterdam, Bachelor in Dance. He was awarded as the best male dancer on the Dance Platform in Almada, Portugal. He has worked with numerous national and international choreographers and companies: Bollwerk, flowingdancecompany, Solo Danza am Werk, Opera House Zürich, VRUM, öff öff, Somafon, just to name the few. His work concentrates on the queer themes and explorations of gender.