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The Commons
The Arts

Performance collective brings feminist lens to action movies

Originally published in The Commons issue #378 (Wednesday, October 12, 2016). This story appeared on page B1.



MARLBORO—Julia Thomas, Emma-Kate Guimond and Aisha Sasha John have spent the last year watching hundreds of action movies.

That is not to say these women a big fans of the genre. In fact, it is precisely because they have issues with action movies that the three are exploring these films.

“I think everyone agrees at action movies are most notoriously oppressive to women of all films around,” says Thomas. “At the same time, there is something compelling about action movies. Consider a movie like “Taken.” It is indeed very sexist, but at the same time you can help feeling something amazing and even delightful how it expresses itself.”

“We believe that women live the traumas of the action film every day of their lives,” says Thomas. Their adventures may seem mundane in cinematic terms, but WIVES believes for women they are just as adventurous and climatic.

Thomas, Guimond and John are the members of WIVES, a multi-disciplinary three-woman performance collective which this month is in residency at Vermont Performance Lab (VPL).

VPL, in association with Marlboro College, presents a work-in-progress performance, “Action Movie,” by the multidisciplinary, three-woman performance collective WIVES.

On Wednesday, Oct. 19, at 7 p.m., the Performance Lab will present an In The Works showing of “Action Movie” in the Serkin Center for Performing Arts at Marlboro College, followed by a post-performance conversation with the artists.

This event is free and reservations aren’t required.

Hailing from Montréal as part of the Performance Lab’s dance-residency exchange with Studio 303, WIVES will be in residency with the Performance Lab at Marlboro College for a week to film and develop new movement material. The exchange with Studio 303 grew out of the Performance Lab’s SEED Program, a new initiative that supports regional dance makers with fees and residencies in New England and Québec.

The trio says the name of their collective “signifies unconditional bonds, especially those between women, characterized by support, love, and alliances.”

“Action Movie” examines the mass appeal of action movies from a feminist perspective. Using performance, sculpture and video, this staged performance attempts to create a live, anti-oppressive action movie that examines the mass appeal of action movies from a feminist perspective. By reworkng of the genre, WIVES asks what kind of excitement can be had without the threat of violence, rape, or torture.

Though Thomas spoke to The Commons, WIVES likes to makes statements as a group rather than as individuals. The collective may be composed of three women, they like to see themselves as operating as one.

“Everything is accomplished through collaboration,” the collective writes. “In WIVES, everybody does everything. Who we are in relation to each other is foundational political material.”

This is not to say the members are not different from each other. Actually, those differences adds to the collective’s strength. All three have a background in dance, but in addition, one has special expertise in video, another in performance and a third carpentry.

As the collective explains at the website of La Chapelle in Montreal, where Action Movie will have its world premiere next February, “How do we represent violence? How much power do we actually have? Action becomes the discrepancy between a Hollywood action movie and what WIVES will produce.”

VPL founder Sara Coffey writes, “[WIVES] particular approach to mixing media in performance situates them between or on the margins of theatre, dance, sculpture, video, and performance art. Their work produces a tension in how to look, hear and feel and attempts to incite a wide range of experiences from seduction to alienation.”

As the collective writes, “WIVES locate our political and emotional selves in our bodies. ...Choreography is the operation WIVES employ to articulate our feminisms. [Sculpture] extend and emphasize our investment in materiality... [Video] subvert institutional codes [which we] earnestly mimic [but] fail to copy them because they are not made for us.”

In past shows, WIVES used a similar strategy to explore the sexism in professional sports, and in Disney movies.

“WIVES begin by earnestly mimicking these institutions — action movies, sports, Disney — but our failures to mimic reflects their inherent exclusivity: they are not made for us,” says Thomas.

WIVES is uncomfortable with the term “feminist action-movie,” which is sometimes used for films with a strong female lead like in “Kill Bill,” or the most recent iteration of the “Mad Max” movies.

“Even in those movies, the female is extremely sexualized and locked into familiar archetypes,” says Thomas.

To break out of the confines imposed by the genre requires radical rethinking of what constitutes an action movie, which is one reason WIVES responded by creating a stage work rather than a film.

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