When it comes to sexual expression, women have not always enjoyed freedom.
For centuries, women cloaked their desires or otherwise risked the stigma of “not being the kind of girl a boy takes home to mama.”
Dancer/choreographer Gesel Mason tried to dispel that irrational, outmoded way of thinking in her “Women, Sex and Desire: Sometimes You Feel Like a Ho, Sometimes You Don’t.” Presented to a sold-out audience at the Performing Arts Center at the University at Albany on Thursday night, the event challenged society’s expectations and beliefs about sex and women. It also challenged the audience to open up and explore their personal desires and fantasies.
Performed in the round, the piece by the all-female Gesel Mason Performance Projects, was part dance, part talk show. It began with audience members filling out a form, remembering a moment of bliss and then finishing statements such as “I want you to ...” and “I like the way it feels when …”
The slips of paper were handed to dancer Courtney Cooke, who walked around like Vanna White in a salmon cocktail dress, sparkly heels and a tiara. Once the slips were collected, she flung off her tiara and the show got under way.
Mason addressed the audience first, asking questions about how they felt about the word “ho.” What images did it conjure? What feelings did it elicit? Of course, they were many and mainly pejorative.
The dance then asked the question why.
Certainly, “Women, Sex and Desire” was thought-provoking. The dancers, in all shapes, sizes and races, played out sexual moments — an orgasm, a seduction and a slow and shadowy display of a female nude.
In one section, a battle raged between two women over a third. Ching-I Chang clawed and bore her chest to reach Cooke, while Carly Berrett stood between them. Berrett pushed Chang with force, telling her to have some “self-respect.” Chang pleaded “I love her.”
In another scene, Cooke asked Berrett to tell her what she wanted. She yelled at her to “let go.” Berrett said she couldn’t, as she flung and flailed her limbs, stumbling to the floor.
There was a lot of that — hard-driving, forceful dancing that often landed the women in disarray and heaps. It was as if they were exorcising some demon from their being, as well as releasing a wellspring of pent-up passion.
In one moving monologue, a women talked about being a stripper — its good times and its bad. TV monitors, suspended above, broadcast women who spoke of the pains of being a prostitute. Yet there were also segments of men and women in loving intimacy.
The overall feeling was one of ambiguity, that there was no right or wrong when it comes to sex. And while there can be pain and rejection associated with sex, the act was the ultimate in sharing and rapture.
How a woman got there was her prerogative.