UW choreographer Peggy Choy brings the third and final installment of her Women of the Scarred Earth Performance and Outreach Project to the Wisconsin Union Theater on Friday, March 16, at 8 p.m. This powerful performance combines dance, martial arts, traditional Japanese and Korean music, spoken word and jazz by Fred Ho.
I'll admit that the press release made me a little wary: "Warrior women meet on an urban battlefield that extends across time and space through the memories of an old woman survivor." That sounded like a lofty concept, but after observing part of a dress rehearsal I found that Choy masterfully pulls it off with sensitivity and a strong theatrical sense.
I was moved by the poignant imagery of women who have endured unspeakable atrocities (rape, starvation, mutilation) during times of war or survived natural disasters. In fact, I soon felt ashamed of myself for arriving stressed out with my own ridiculous worries (lack of parking, babysitter's time constraints, work deadlines). The narration by poet and playwright Magdalena Gomez is stirring and provocative: "And the earth says no more, and the women say no more, and the children say no more."
After a particularly harrowing reading by Gomez in which she asked "who will comfort the comfort women?" (that is, the Asian women used as sex slaves during World War II), Marina Celander performs a wrenching solo. Convulsing with quick little jumps, or with her arms held up as though she were in restraints, she conveys humiliation and desperation. On the floor with her legs in the air and her black-and-red robes flung over her head and torso, she reveals her shame and pain as her feet awkwardly turn inward. When she stands again, with her hands tensely splayed, her mouth freezes in a silent howl.
Choy herself delivers a magical solo, in a traditional Korean mask as the old lady character (whom Choy describes as an undaunted seer with a feisty spirit). She hobbles, hunches over and then unwinds the fabric of her white costume, shivering and skittering in a pool of light. When she waves a flickering red scarf in front of her body as she dances, it's a truly a beautiful image.
The piece closes as five dancers in persimmon-colored costumes with brocade panels and sheer gauzy, golden sleeves enter in a solemn procession, stopping to sway in place before dancing together with Choy in the background. They somehow look both ancient and modern at the same time. They exit through the graceful fabric-draped archway, a passage between the past, present and future.