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Rawness. Vulnerability. Awkwardness. Discomfort. Fear. Mourning. Anger. These are the words that best capture Homo Femina, an online audiovisual production created by Havana-born choreographer Marlen Puello, streaming in the Philly Fringe. The way womanhood is micro-analyzed, objectified, and brutalized in society is excruciatingly captured throughout the performance’s 40-minute runtime.
This minimalist production comprised of seven vignettes features multiple dance disciplines and establishes its visual language immediately. Each scene is preceded by a line from a poem by Patricia Cuaranta, first in Spanish, then translated to English. The first starts with a single spotlight serving as its set. Our protagonist, performed by Magalí Baratini, also credited as co-creator, circles the spotlight. We catch glimpses of her in shadow before she takes center stage and moves in staccato bursts to a busy score. A voiceover starts of a mother leaving a message gingerly checking on her estranged daughter and pleading with her to respond. The message repeats as do Baratini’s movements, a choreography with steps that are painful to know.
Baratini performs solo for most of the piece. One highlight creates a scene in which, amidst the backdrop of a women’s rights protest in Argentina (where Puello lived for more than 15 years), the protagonist walks down an alley, where someone attacks her. What makes this scene so shocking and uncomfortable is that it is shot entirely through the POV of the assailant, forcing the viewer to take on that role. It is not graphic, but it is visceral due to the frenetic cuts interspersed with anti-rape chants from the protest and culminating in frenzied drums and the protagonist’s distressed noises.
Most of the other scenes don’t have as clear a storyline. It leaves the viewer to glean meaning from the film’s sound design as well as the protagonist’s movements and facial expressions. There is a scene shown from three different perspectives as cameras are positioned in various parts of a living room, putting the viewer in another uncomfortable position: this time that of a voyeur. There is a scene that seems to depict the torment and creative possibility inherent in menstruation. There is also a ballet segment that deconstructs the dancer’s body from feet up. At one point we hear the audio from Donald Trump bragging to Billy Bush about assaulting women (published during the 2016 presidential campaign), depicting how society’s plunder of the Femina is ingrained in every level of the systems she navigates.
As the protagonist moves about the various spaces, the deftness of the camera work and editing are apparent, but most of the scenes feel as though they would have a far better impact if they were experienced in person. Overall, this is a worthy and somber piece that will probably grow in resonance with repeated viewings.
What, When, Where
Homo Femina. By Marlen Puello and Magalí Baratini, directed by Puello. $10. Streaming online through October 2, 2022. (215) 413-1318 or fringearts.com.
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