Judy Chicago's "The Dinner Party," the controversial, overwhelmingly detailed exhibit honoring extraordinary women, has set a lot of critical minds pondering over that burgeoning, complex phenomenon known as "feminist art." Must the package -- ideology and artistry -- be swallowed whole, or can the critic laud the message while dissecting the craft?
It's virtually impossible to fault the ideas set forth by the Wallflower Order, a five-member women's dance collective from Eugene, Ore. Their rousing, wide-ranging performance at Marvin Theater Friday evening explored such subjects as role-playing, endangered wildlife, prison conditions, self-defense, sisterhood, love of self and other women -- all relevant topics that flow naturally from a strong feminist wellspring. Yet the troupe's artistic deliberations on many of these societal and personal joys and woes lacked a certain consistency and shape. Their talents are abundant: They sing and dance with a gritty energy and commitment, they speak beautifully, they write poems and tell stories and devise truly original costumes, but too frequently those talents were larded one upon the other, employed in a heavy, hit-the-audience-over-the-head-with-our-message style.
The five women have not yet found an original dance vocabulary that needs no verbal explanation. However, their sublime mastery of both sign language and martial-arts movements -- kinesthetic codes remarkable for both their utilitarian and esthetic worth -- provides moments of great strength and beauty. Despite the uneven quality of its performance, Wallflower deals with essential material, and could in time develop into a truly groundbreaking feminist vessel.
Judging by the title ("Women's Wear") and subject matter (Calamity Jane, role-playing, man-woman vs. woman-woman relationships), it would appear that the short, sparse dance concert presented at American University's New Lecture Hall this weekend had also grown out of a woman-oriented foundation. But the dances -- one by Mardie Glenn, three by Lin Shook -- dealt in tepid, unimaginative images that left the spectator with only the bare bones of a choreographic or thematic concept. Before embarking on a message-making endeavor, both women would do well to further investigate their movement-making abilities.