Lean, bleached-blond, with legs that go on and on, Antonija Livingstone cuts a striking figure. “The Part” is a work that she’s currently touring. Last year it played in an earlier incarnation at Montréal’s Tangente on a double-bill with George Stamos, and now it appears for one night only in Studio 303’s Edgy Women Festival (this year expanded into an international event spanning the better part of March).
Livingstone has a fierceness about her on stage. Her gaze is focussed and her body alert and intelligent. The performance space at the Sala Rossa (The Red Room) is vast. One of the city’s hottest stages, it was once a left-wing Jewish community centre and, for the past thirty years, has been a Spanish cultural centre. The hall also hosts everything from cabaret performance to break dance competitions, rock ‘n’ roll, reggae, djs, folk, indie-rock, musique actuelle, film screenings, flamenco shows, poetry readings, etc. Even with the audience in rows of seats three deep on both sides, and SR crowds lining the bar wall, Livingstone works the entire room, covering just about every bit of available space.
Originally from Vancouver, Livingstone splits her time between Montréal, Brussels, Berlin and Stockholm. Her training and interests include ballet, drag and martial arts, and she collaborates with a diverse group of artists, including Meg Stuart/Damaged Goods, Benoît Lachambre, Vera Montero, George Stamos and Heather Kravas.
Livingstone’s art-making has a utilitarian feel to it. She works with props that look second-hand, and the wigs and accessories she uses seem like they’re pulled from thrift shops. There is nothing disinteresting in this. In fact, where many dance artists are pumping bucks into processed and refined productions high on set, costume and lighting embellishments, it feels right to see someone recycle what’s in her midst. There’s a certain amount of ideological appropriation going on in that regard: Livingstone, like a number of contemporary artists, is espousing a kind of aesthetic freedom not bound by tradition, one that we haven’t seen (or read about, depending on your age) since the sixties in the USA. The Judson Church artists in New York, for instance, were concerned with control: over what they were making and on how they defined themselves artists. The non-dance that Livingstone creates in “The Part” ties in well to a certain kind of post-post-modern preoccupation (or is that triple post?) with walking and other anti-pure movement/conventional dancing events.
Within that frame, Livingstone isn’t working with an obviously clear structure. She begins on the stage, curtains partially open, in a hoodie and jeans, with foam confetti being pumped out of a pipe. With her back to the audience, it looks, to be blunt, like her hand is wanking away. She jumps off the stage and walks straight down the centre of the room, comes into the audience area, walks out the entryway, and re-enters with a broom in hand. With the handle she goes to each hanging candelabra and gently sways the fixture. She jumps back up on the stage and pulls the curtains open wide, revealing an orange garbage bag. Inside it there’s a boom box of sorts; she presses a switch, hand inside the bag, and music plays. Soon after, she takes off her jeans and pulls on a black wig. We see she’s wearing tights, and a leotard emblazoned with a wolf design. At a certain point, she pushes a couch off the auditorium stage and onto the floor below. She has a big smile on her face. She walks over to the bar directly opposite the stage, gets a bottle and pours herself a glass. She utters, “I. Uh …”, but nothing more. She places the drink on the couch, it teeters slightly, and she stands on the cushions, her back to the audience. A good minute passes and she remains still.
At a certain point, Livingstone leaves the room for about thirty seconds and returns heaving in a big roll of heavy-duty marley dance floor. She unspools the floor, drags the couch into a more central location and swigs another drink. The tube that served as the core of the flooring is now the base of a balance beam that Livingstone uses to great effect. Poised on a small square piece of wood that she’s placed on the tube, she begins to sing: “Dance! Ballerina dance and do your pirouette with your aching heart. A dancer has to dance “The Part”.” Trying to maintain her balance, she seems both assertive and coy. Each time she loses her momentum, and the wood tips, she stops singing. After the song is complete, she announces, “This is the end of the first part.”
A beat later, having walked to another area of the space, she announces, “And this is the other part.”In this next section, she considers the conventions and images of femininity and masculinity. She pulls out a fake beard and a Montréal Canadiens hockey sweater, schleps the couch over, pushing it around, stuffs some balloons into her sweater for a hyper-boob effect, and starts undulating her body. We hear the sound of a siren (coming from a tape). She screams, in a deep, throaty voice, “Hey, shut the fuck up! We’re doin’ serious shit here.”
Moment to moment, Livingstone explores the intersection between gender portrayal and other social categories of age and class. Some of it is extremely funny, some of it disturbing, some of it just uncomfortable to watch. At one point, she seems to be getting crotchety, like a dirty old man rubbing himself; then a split second later, she heaves her boobs.
Seated on the couch, she starts to engage with a fire extinguisher, nuzzling it up to her body. He/she repeats, “Ho!” The sound builds, rhythmic. Sitting and “ho-ing”, Livingstone’s upper body becomes involved. Dynamically, she shifts the physical texture. Vocally, Ho! becomes Oh!, and her voice rises to an orgasmic pitch. The sound then becomes No! She shouts it out. Then the sound is Ow! Little ows, like a cat. Then she sounds, crudely, like she’s taking a crap. It builds to Yeah! Yeah! Soon she sounds like a barking dog. Yeah! Oh yeah! His/her hands are in front of his/her crotch.
From sexual gratification to little laughs, Livingstone takes the beard from her chin and becomes a blond, chesty, none-too-bright gal. She sits on the couch and laughs in high-pitched giggles. She gets off the couch and moves forward. “I just don’t know what to do, but if I did, I would,” she coos. The wig comes off, and she piles the marley floor on top of the couch. Climbing onto the mound, she sucks some helium from a balloon and, sounding like a munchkin, she says, “Take a look into your imagination”. She looks like she’s surfing the mound. In the final sequence, she’s back on the stage, with drink in hand. She takes a swallow, crushes the plastic cup and toasts the crowd with a jubilant, “Santé (health)!”
An interdisciplinary approach and a feminist perspective inform Livingstone’s critique. She plays with boundaries and ideas about the illusion of control and permanence: the aesthetic simplicity of “The Part” creates imagery that gestures toward notions of self, permanence and ownership. In the process, thoughts and questions related to myth, stability, identity and the body, develop. As one woman commented after the show, “I think I’ve seen everything tonight. There’s nothing more to say or do.” Not quite, I say. To me, Livingstone is just getting the conversation going.