It’s hard to wave when your elbow can’t bend.
In Beauty, choreographer Jane Comfort — hailed as a “postmodernist pioneer” by The New York Times — deploys the limited, stiff-jointed movements of Barbie and Ken dolls to withering satirical effect. Their robotic activities come in razor sharp contrast to the fluid, more fully expressive vocabulary of dancers unbound by heels, Spanx or too-tight jeans.
At 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, March 1 and 2, Jane Comfort and Company will perform Beauty — as well as the darkly buoyant, BESSIE Award-winning Underground River (for the second half of the program) — as part of the Edison Ovations Series.
Trained as a visual artist, Comfort is known for creating complex, multi-disciplinary works that address contemporary social and cultural issues while also pushing the limits of what is normally considered dance or drama.
In Beauty, Comfort turns her gaze to the obsessive pursuit of physical perfection.
“Beauty is a dance/theater work exploring the American notion of female beauty through the lens of Barbie,” Comfort says. “Why Barbie? As the thousands of images of models and celebrities that are projected onto the cultural landscape daily attest, we have collectively moved toward Barbie as our beauty model.
“It is amazing that in the third wave of feminism, we would accept this Photoshopped beauty as valid, but we do,” she adds. “How can we ordinary mortals look like that?”
Over the course of the evening, Comfort skewers a wide range of targets — including men, women and the audience itself — yet also fosters a surprising degree of empathy and compassion. Viewers become acquainted with the performers as Barbie dolls, as beauty contestants, as characters with aspirations of beauty and, last but not least, as the dancers inhabiting all these personas.
Underground River, which forms the second half of the program, explores the rich inner fantasy life of a girl who appears to the outside world to be unconscious. Singing a cappella songs by Toshi Reagon and interacting with the seemingly magical creations of master puppeteer Basil Twist, the dancers dwell in a world of magic realism and eccentric beauty unseen by those who wish to make her “well.”
“The aptly named Comfort approaches the subject matter of her dances with gentle humor and nostalgia,” says The Boston Globe. “Tiptoeing into areas where some might fear to tread — cosmetic surgery, a possibly comatose child — Comfort makes even Barbie a sympathetic character.”
Tickets and sponsors
Performances of Beauty take place at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday March 1 and 2. Tickets are $36, or $32 seniors, $28 for Washington University faculty and staff and $20 for students and children.
Tickets are available at the Edison Box Office and through all MetroTix outlets. Edison Theatre is located in the Mallinckrodt Center, 6445 Forsyth Blvd.
Edison programs are made possible with support from the Missouri Arts Council, a state agency; the Regional Arts Commission, St. Louis; and private contributors.