Seattle artist ilvs strauss’s new full-length work, Manifesto (this weekend at Velocity Dance Center) is self-described as “a dance narrative performance that employs a marine invertebrate… as a vehicle for exploring the topic of womanhood.” This descriptor doesn’t shed much light on what to expect at Velocity Dance Center this weekend; rather, it is a somewhat daunting advertisement that could be easily misconstrued as a parody of modern dance. Or maybe strauss’ work is just really smart and bold?
“It is bold,” strauss tells me. “I’m making a bold statement identifying myself within the whole binary system because I consider myself gender queer, but in this instance and situation, I’m very much saying I’m a woman. I spent so long rejecting my feminine nature but now I’m comfortable being that.”
In the original 20-minute production of Manifesto presented last summer at On the Boards (on which this full-length work is largely based) the lights come up on strauss dancing spasmodically, her torso moving with painful jerks. She stops, and her pre-recorded voice begins a conversational monologue with an announcement to the audience that she thinks she might be pregnant. As strauss discusses the ramifications of this realization, she dons a backpack shaped in the form of droopy breasts and a swollen pregnant belly, then casts it onto the floor. A quick costume change brings strauss back on to the stage dressed as a giant California red sea cucumber, the sea invertebrate known for expelling and regenerating its own organs.
An additional 12 dancers will join strauss in the full-length production, all dressed in a marvel of costume design with spiny outer parts and the ability to spew felt “organs” at appropriate moments in her monologue. Together, the ensemble explores the dark caverns of female identity, ending up who knows where but—strauss promises—the journey and the destination are without judgment of any woman’s choice. “In the end,” she says, “every choice comes with its own struggles, and we all struggle with our own identity. The bigger topics are there no matter what path you choose.”