“See Her Change” (And some reflections on change)

Liora Bing-Heidecker

“See Her Change” (And some reflections on change)
Isn’t it isn’t it

Oh things do change
Oh they don’t change at all

Isn’t it isn’t it

(Devendra Banhart, lyrics. “Hey Miss Cane”)

Cinema is a medium that has always captivated Yasmeen Godder. The notion of glamour, governing the rapport between media artists and audience, is hinted at by occasional screenings on the backdrop, in the shape of a falling star or flashing red light spots; A kind of deus ex machina that provides a frame of reference for the entire piece, culminating with a seductive neon poster, inviting the audience to “See her change”.

Who is “she”? We don’t know. Does it refer to one of the dancers on the stage or to women as such? Either way, in retrospect, the promise to witness any change at all seems doubtful, if not empty. Godder’s works are constantly thought provoking. Her audience is encouraged to exercise hindsight and to look back onto reality’s “behind” (which, in this piece, is literally laid bare). The tension between nudity and clothing, as well as the act of dressing (or dressing-up), recurring motifs in Godder’s oeuvre, deserve some attention.
I would like to link the question of change and the theme of garbing to another important element in Godder’s work: the concept of the “virtuoso” – or, in a slightly different variation, that of the “star” – primarily because she herself is undoubtedly a virtuoso par excellence.

The common meaning of the term “virtuoso” applies to the prodigy, the genius, the exceptional performer – not one who “makes believe” but the real, authentic, one of a kind artist. Yet, it is here that a paradox, very similar to Diderot’s paradox of the actor, appears. The virtuoso is meant to be a genuine embodiment of a natural, “obvious” truth, and at the same time a manifestation of an exceptional, outstanding and unbelievable phenomenon, testifying to the genius’s super-natural talent.

Allegedly, the true virtuoso has a key to “change”: his own transformation on stage ensures that the audience too will undergo a unique, transforming experience. However, due to the aforementioned paradox, such an experience might be but a pipe dream (the words “dream” and “falling” come to mind, echoing James Blake’s “Wilhelm’s Scream” played earlier on: “I don’t know about my dreams / I don’t know about my dreaming anymore / All that I know is I’m falling, falling, falling, falling / Might as well fall in.”). To my understanding, it is the gap between the two poles of the paradox which forms an “excess” – a constant, transgressive lure of jouissance which motivates Godder and defines her playground.

“Play” is an important notion in Godders choreography. In fact, this piece suggests that the only possible change can be obtained by dressing up and furthermore, that the only way to carry it through is by playing. But what game is this? Is it playing “for real”, or “as if”?

In “See her change” this excess translates into masses of hair. Hair is a cultural icon. It is also a form of “excess” in which culture (and popular culture in particular) often revels. It is an interim sphere: not quite a limb or a part of the body, even though it grows out of it. Hair can be left loose or tied up, it can be dyed, curled in or straightened out, it may stroke, provoke, it can be grown or cut, or lost… it is both intimate and strange at the same time. Needless to say, it can be natural or synthetic and, in this case – a bunch of bright colored wigs.

‘Where does my body begin or end’ is, strictly speaking, a philosophical question and Godder, in her way, is always dealing with philosophical questions. The discourse of the virtuoso and that of masquerading are intrinsically linked with the ancient problem raised by Plato, of truth vs. falsehood in art. This problem specifically concerns the art of theater, which traditionally promotes acquired artificiality rather than natural authenticity.

But couldn’t it be that not possessing a distinct nature is, paradoxically again, humanity’s quintessential characteristic, and that therefore only “over-acted” artificiality may express its authenticity on stage, as claimed by Diderot?

Godder introduces her dancers like players in a rock band or members of a sports team, and strangely (“strange” is another word that comes to the spectators mind, recalling Devendra Banhart’s lyrics) all three dancers were born in Jerusalem! Does it, too, belong to their nature? It turns out they have more things in common: their fathers are all doctors, although they are not all Russian. No. Somewhere there is indeed a slight difference, but does it really make a “change”?

Artificiality can be reproduced. Therefore it is in stark contrast to authenticity and singularity. But here, again, the paradox nips through, because the celebrated authenticity and singularity of the virtuoso/star meets the eye as an extrinsic property which can be stenciled or cloned. The eccentric nineteenth century virtuoso was marked, among other traits, by disheveled hair; whereas the twentieth century “movie star” is marked by her glamorous blond hair. However, such attributes may be obtained at the hairdresser’s, while other characteristics can be provided by the top designer, the personal trainer, or the plastic surgeon, who clone beauties like cans of Campbell’s tomato soup.

The promised singularity of the star might therefore be a mere façade: instead of extracting from the star her individual uniqueness, garbing and acquired mannerism may serve to cover it up and mask it, adding another aspect to the impossibility of change.
Yet, Godder’s piece is not so pessimistic as to leave no hope. Indeed, I believe that the liberating, optimistic element of her choreography lies in her willingness to look at reality with eyes wide open and to investigate it fearlessly, from a position of curiosity, compassion and humor. Her sober observation allows her to turn heavy questions into playing matter.

And so, by way of playing, Godder reaches the end of her piece, once again devoting herself to dance, heeding the realization that it is dance, after all, that offers an alternative, perhaps the deepest one possible, to “change”.