Choreographed by Alia Kache
Produced by Alia Kache/Kachal Dance
Part of the 2016 New York International Fringe Festival
Off Off Broadway, Dance
Runs through 8.26.16
VENUE #14: The Steve & Marie Sgouros Theatre, 115 MacDougal Street, 3rd Floor
by Adrienne Urbanski on 8.23.16
Hanna Delong, Shay Bland, and Alia Kache in Caricature of She. Photo by Rachel Neville.
BOTTOM LINE: This dance piece compellingly questions female beauty standards and gender roles.
Susan Sontag once wrote, “To be called beautiful is thought to name something essential to women’s character and concerns… It is not, of course the desire to be beautiful that is wrong but the obligation to be—or to try.” The negative effects of beauty standards on women have been noted and commented on for decades, with direct links proven between the images of women shown in the media and the rate of eating disorders. And while this decade has certainly seen an easing of these beauty standards, the harsh effects are still present, with women still chasing after the latest in cosmetic surgery. The dance piece Caricature of She examines the negative side of society’s beauty standards, creating a compelling piece that tells a familiar story in a new way.
In the production, dancers don Barbie doll-like blonde wigs, bright pink lipstick, high heels, and skin-tight black dresses. In the beginning, they sit, pout, and reapply lipstick in front of handheld mirrors, appearing to be fascinated by their own reflections as they don the costumes necessary to be beautiful. One dancer darts out on stage, hesitatingly looks at the black high heels waiting for her, looks back at the other dancers already all wearing identical shoes, and then begrudgingly puts them on, knowing that this is how she will have to conform if she wants to be seen as beautiful.
Then, as the piece progresses, the dancers begin to strut in front of a large central mirror, each peering at themselves as they sexily pout and move in a perfect parody of the archetypes of female sexiness. As the women move, a recorded voice (presumably reading from an article in a women’s magazine) details how women can make themselves beautiful and what physical attributes are considered most beautiful. “There are no ugly women, only women who do not know how to be beautiful,” notes the speaker as she suggests that women use cosmetic surgery as a way to achieve the necessary facial structure for beauty.
Later, a male voice recording explains what type of women men find attractive, noting that women should not seem too strong or too intelligent, and should instead seem submissive and ready to heel to a man’s demands. Dancing to these recordings sends a particularly strong message about the relationship between gender roles and the way they are perpetuated by the media. In one particularly fascinating scene, a dancer crawls on a strip of reflective aluminum, staring transfixed by her image and then licking it in the ultimate act of self-absorption and narcissism.
Halfway through the piece, some of the dancers begin to rebel against the conformity as they rip off the wigs and dresses, baring their true selves. Those who strip themselves of the accoutrements of stereotypes of feminine beauty are lashed out at by the dancers who follow the rules, who try to force the dancers back into their wigs and heels. Those who remove the costumes are further ostracized when insulting words in glittering black cloth are pinned to them, conveying how women who reject the standards of beauty are criticized.
The message of the piece is clear: be an individual and not a mindless sheep who follows the harsh standards of beauty that control women. Alia Kache has created a work with both a strong social message, as well a strong visual aesthetic. The coquettish dolls mimicking the behaviors associated with femininity raise many social questions about gender roles, but also are simultaneously visually beautiful and revolting, as they create a dark parody of society’s ideas towards beauty. Overall, this is a captivating work evocative of childhood whimsy and also representative of the darker side of beauty.
(Caricature of She plays at VENUE #14: The Steve & Marie Sgouros Theatre, 115 MacDougal Street, 3rd Floor, through August 26, 2016. The running time is 50 minutes. Performances are Fri 8/12 at 5:15; Sun 8/14 at 2:45; Thu 8/18 at 5:45; Tue 8/23 at 9:45; and Fri 8/26 at 7:15. There is no late seating at FringeNYC. Tickets are $18 and are available at fringenyc.org. For more information visit aliakache.com.)
Caricature of She is choreographed by Alia Kache.
Dancers include Samantha Barriento, Shay Bland, Tyler Brown, Alexis "Tilly" Krueger, and Courtney Ross.