Deconstructing the Myth of the Booty
Warehouse – Mainstage
July 19, 2:15 p.m.
They say: “Sara Baartman? In 1810, she became ‘Hottentot Venus’, toured as a sideshow, her large buttocks displayed. When she died, pieces of her were displayed in a museum. In 2009 the booty is STILL on display! Deconstructing creatively explores body politics.”
Brian’s take: I’m a white guy. For all the jeers I got as a chubby kid on the Skins side of the grade school soccer field, my body has never significantly influenced the way I feel about, perceive, or comport myself. So when the cast of Deconstructing the Myth of the Booty asked audience members to yell out our first impressions after the performance, unlike the woman in front of me, I didn’t quite feel the urge to shout, “Familiar!”
Cat-calling, stereotyping, objectification; the hasty, sexual, and shallow first impressions that inspire all three — sure, I’m conscious of this stuff, and in fact I’ll admit I find thoughts of it tangoing through my mind more than I really understand why. But by no means is it familiar to me, and certainly not in the way it’s familiar to the black women who were in the audience with me, or the formidable cast of black women that have adopted a muse named Saartjiee (Sara) Baartman and mounted this pageant upon her shoulders.
In the 19th century, Baartman was taken from South Africa, re-christened “Hottentot Venus,” and sent on a tour throughout Europe as an exotic dancer in the most literal sense, her booty the subject of international fixation until well after her death when actual parts of her remained on display in a museum. But rather than craft the play from Baartman’s biography, the ensemble members weave it from what I imagine to be glimpses of their own — a discordant family reunion, a deflected come-on at a bar, a sequence from a dream or a fantasy or a restless night spent staring wide-eyed at the ceiling above the bed.
This choice — to let Baartman’s story percolate and linger in the shadows, instead of present itself straight — is to the piece’s advantage and detriment. At their weakest, the ensemble’s fables resort to relaying an experience rather than rendering it theatrical, and in certain moments I desired a Saartjie Baartman more character than muse, the shared experience of a race and a gender brought into vivid relief by the singular tale of one woman’s life. But at its strongest — in a tender serenade to a newly-displaced Baartman, or a wrenching exhibition of the naked body that will make you sit rigid in your seat — the cast earnestly and confidently commands the theater, demystifying the black female body (booty and all) while redressing it with a tantalizing mysticism all their own.
See it if: You thought this show was going to be about pirates.
Skip it if: You were hoping for a live-action music video to “Baby Got Back.”