Wrestling with the WIP puts forward the metaphor of quilt making as a strategy for reconfiguring women’s lives that are ripped apart, fragmented by harmful and impossible ideals. These ideals are designed by consumer culture, where rampant degradation of women is a typical marketing practice, and value is strictly monetary. Wrestling with the WIP reclaims value and redistributes it among women as individuals and in supportive relationships between women.
The work deftly exposes the personal pain and isolation that so many women go through, unaware of the support available to them in other women who have struggled, or do struggle with body image and other issues. When women share our experiences we start to break harmful cycles of self-destruction. We are socially conditioned to internalize dangerous and unattainable standards about beauty and behavior against which we judge others and ourselves. A repeated gesture that stood out to me in Wrestling with the WIP involved one dancer covering another’s eyes with her hands, and they pause together, then the covered dancer drops down and leaps out, breaking free.
In an audio recording, a younger woman asks her mother about her experience giving birth, and is beautifully interrupted by a child running through shouting, “mom!” and they all laugh together. Suddenly, the younger woman is revealed to be not just the daughter, but a mother as well herself. I presume that the young woman is in fact the choreographer, which roots the dance in a specific personal past, as opposed to a general sort of archetype of “women’s experience.” Furthermore, the emphasis on intergenerational relationships creates an alternative system of value to the oppressive cultural pressures that this work critiques.
The transitions were smooth, dances flowed into one another effortlessly and everything felt well paced. The music was fresh, varied yet cohesive. The run time was a bit shy of the listed 45 minutes, but content and quality more than made up for it.
The piece actually started in the lobby, where we all would have been anyway waiting for the house to open. Shifting the parameters of the performance space is a great way to reinforce bodily awareness in the audience, but once the lobby prelude was complete we took seats and the rest of the dance took place on the stage as usual. Particularly as the subject of the work dealt with the internalization of limiting and normalizing systems of control, it would have been exciting for this work to even further interrogate the standards of black box theater dance.
Wrestling with the WIP moves beautifully through internal and external cycles of imitation, instruction, revolt, struggle, instability, and support.
Running Time: 45 minutes, with no intermission.
Wrestling with the WIP is presented and choreographed by Nicole Y. McClam, featuring Rita Kelly Burns, Stacey Yvonne Claytor, Dandrea Johnson, Shanna Lim, Nicole Y. McClam, and Jessica Plaskon. .