I’m sure by now everyone is familiar with the Stanford rape case — the one where a Stanford swimmer got six months of jail time for raping an unconscious girl. The victim’s letter, and the father’s letter, those powerful pieces of paper, composed of powerfully oppositional words, have flooded my newsfeed all week. The injustice of the case is emotionally exhausting. As a woman, I felt a little bit defeated this week. So going into last night's Opposing Forces, a show that claims to explore ideas of masculinity and femininity, I hoped the show would distract me from the sadness found in the real world.
I was pretty familiar with Opposing Forces before seeing the performance for the first time last night. I’d interviewed the choreographer Amy O’Neal, and written a preview of the show — twice. (My computer died, I lost the first version of my article. I rewrote it, taking a different angle, one that focused more on the feminine force of the show. I liked my revised copy better.)
But still, I was a little nervous about the show. I wanted so badly to like it that I feared it wouldn’t meet my expectations. The surprising thing was that my expectations disappeared as the five dancers walked onto the stage. At various points they danced and even crawled. It was so clear that they were in this thing 100 percent. They were having so much fun.
The show is ambitious. Part of its description reads, “B-Boys uncover binary perceptions of gender using a diverse range of dance contexts.” Heavy, right? The show has a narrative, one that isn’t always linear — but what story is? At one point, the men dance as if they are a boy band, the audience actually playing the audience of a boy band. We screamed and clapped, we became a part of the show, considering our roles as men and women, the dancers’ potential roles as sex objects. The performance features narration, recorded conversations between O’Neal and the men. She asks them, on a scale of 0-10, how masculine they consider themselves. Two laugh, “Nine and a half!” One man says he’s a mama’s boy, adding, “I’m a four.” We see him dance solo, his breaking slowly evolving into something softer and more sensual, something entirely vulnerable. I’m at the edge of my seat.
The audience is filled with kids, most hovering around the age of middle schoolers (that’s just a guess, but seems fitting). At times they look bored, and I don’t blame them. Parts of the show are very slow, but to me they are drenched with meaning. To the kids, well, they’re just long stretches of time.
I watch the kids, one boy next to me bounces impatiently throughout the show. I assume he doesn’t like it. At the end, though, he whispers to his mom, “Can I go ask them?” She assures him that he can go ask the dancers questions, they’ve just promised us that they would hang around for that very reason. The kid had been interested in the show after all. I feel hopeful that some of it rubbed off on him — could one performance teach him how to be comfortable in his own skin?
Perhaps I saw Opposing Forces through rose colored glasses. After a week of disappointing headlines, a show featuring five men being everything from forceful to gentle, eased me back into a kind of hope for the world. The B-Boys, on that audio recording, talk about how sometimes, women breaking on the streets look just like men. “If they had a mask, you maybe couldn’t tell,” one guy says.
The stage, near the end, features six dancers. They all dance the same way, their heads covered by hoods tied tight around their faces. They slow down, pulling the masks off of one another, falling into each others’ arms. In shapeless hoodies and dark pants, the six dancers aren’t that different. They aren’t men or women or black or white — they’re just human. The moment passes, the five men return to the stage, dancing as passionately as they can, lost in the power of the show.
For an hour, the opposing forces of the world have seemed to meld together. I hope the audience can carry part of that sensation into the world, if only for a moment.