Femmillennial runs July 6-17 at the Native Earth Performing Arts Aki Studio as part of the 2022 Toronto Fringe Festival.
Three young women set the stage, perched on old chairs; collared shirts with funky, dated designs buttoned tightly. The music pulses over their stillness before beginning to gurgle and distort. Each woman melts, slowly, towards the floor with an increasingly harrowed expression. One raises their middle finger, and laughter peppers out from the audience.
And suddenly: silence. The women lie sprawled on the floor, limbs bent and angular. Just as quickly, they pick themselves up, take a seat, and rearrange themselves to look prim and proper. They laugh nervously and introduce themselves one at a time. “I’m Dana.” “I’m Kiera.” “I’m Claire.”
Femmillennial, created and choreographed by Kylie Thompson, premiered at the Toronto Fringe Festival this year as a full-length contemporary dance piece. It contemplates the roles and expectations that come with femininity in our society. The double standards expected of women and the pain that lingers under a smoothed out and worn away exterior.
This opening set the stage for the group performance’s emphasis on the individual. While all three dancers weave in and out of movement with each other, forming a web of tangled limbs, they each have their own moments of solo pain and contemplation on stage.
Their shirts seem to be anchors, weighing them down in a struggle against this outer layer. They fight with the fabric, constantly tugging and pulling and trying to break free. The uncertainty remains: whether it is a trap or a mask to protect them.
In particular, Dana MacDonald distressingly frees herself from the shirt, only to have it buttoned up again by the others. They put it on over her face this time, leaving her sightless. They support her movements, but she agonizes in the confines of the space in which she is trapped. This vignette is uncomfortable but effective, as the audience watches her struggle through a situation created, this time, by other women.
The dancers are allowed minimal speech, with the exception of Kiera Breaugh, who shines with a spoken word piece, written by Breaugh herself. Slumped in a chair, she begins with a fatigued repetition of “Uncovering, recovering,” speaking over recorded audio of the same words. Her words shift in contemplation as she gains energy. Uncovering becomes recovering becomes discovering, slowly working through these double standards expected of women and the pressure to perform, to be perfect, to be unshakeable.
Lo-fi music pulses and breathes over the piece, speckled with audio clips of women from media and history with messages of womanhood and motherhood. At times the music cuts out entirely, leaving extended moments of dance with just the sound of breath and feet scraping the floor.
This relaxed performance, on July 10, omitted the work’s regular projections and visuals for a more accessible performance. While the absence of these backgrounds did leave the stage feeling empty at times, especially when the music cut out, the dancers proved capable of filling the stage to capture the audience’s attention in this modified performance.
And yet, through an hour of grit, struggle and support, the dancers find themselves with a happy ending. They each rip off their shirts with triumphant grins, leaving them in a pile on the ground reminiscent of a bonfire. Femmillennial feels current and raw, and gives space to uncomfortable emotions. It sees three women fighting individual, internal (and yet similar) conflicts, who find their strength in this final moment of solidarity and as they shed the weight of expectations.
Dance Media Group strengthens the dance sector through dialogue. Can you help us sustain national, accessible dance coverage? Your contribution supports writers, illustrators, photographers and dancers as they tell their own stories. Dance Media Group is a charitable non-profit organization publishing The Dance Current in print and online.