A couple of strong women

by Nina Branner, 30 Aug 2017

Mathilde Monnier & La Ribot: Gustavia | Credit: Marc Coudrais
La Ribot often investigates, in performance, what it would look like for women to have power. The charming little revue-like “Gustavia” from 2008, in which she teamed up with another dance and feminist icon, Mathilde Monnier, is no exception. Exploring femininity and feminism, “Gustavia” takes as its starting point the two performers themselves. Starting with La Ribot and Monnier makes for a recognizable portrait of women in all their contradictions, which, male audience members, especially, found highly amusing Sunday night at the HAU1.

The piece opened with a comical clown-like number, illustrating the supposedly female tendency to resort to melodrama when in rivalry with another woman. “Look how sad I am,” La Ribot’s strategically placed forefinger on a fictitious teardrop under her right eye signalizes. “I’m even more sad,” Monnier brushes aside her co-player, bursting into affected and attention seeking fake weeping. In another scene the two women indulge in an absurd competition about who can perform the best burlesque choreography, mechanically – and far from erotically – pulling their pantyhose up and down in a desperate hunt for attention and, by implication – power. The most refined act was the two women's final double-monologue in which they, standing on two black chairs next to each other, accelerated into a nonsense-like and hilarious flow of talk about women, their strengths and their shortcomings. The rhythmic precision and sense of timing which both Monnier and La Ribot possess, made it an almost bodily experience. And, I must add, in fear of offending the readers, both the Spanish and the French accents are just very compatible with the cliché of the “affected woman”.

“Gustavia” was a typical name for a governess in 19th century Paris – a name symbolizing a type of woman who is both submissive to and rules over others. How do women position themselves? How do they mobilise strength? What is a “strong” woman like? These were questions raised in the performance: by toying with clichés about what it means to be a woman, the two middle-aged performers in the end provided a loving, self-ironic and recognizable portrait. “Isn’t feminist art in this form a little outdated?” asked a member of the audience in the “dance circle” after Sunday's performance. La Ribot and Monnier are children of the 80s and 90s women's movement and yes, the conception of the woman displayed – and deconstructed – in “Gustavia” may have felt a little old fashioned to some. But on the other hand, this down-to-earth approach was probably what made the piece so wonderfully accessible and witty. La Ribot and Monnier are charismatic performers willing to put themselves at stake and make their own insecurities the object of laughter. That, I think, takes a strong woman.
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The Bloggers

Lily Kelting Born 1986, Stage editor, Exberliner magazine. Works internationally as a freelance dramaturg, writer, and editor. She holds a Ph.D. in Theatre from the University of California, San Diego. Postdoc at the Freie Universität, Berlin. Originally from New York City, she lives in Berlin.

Nina Branner is a freelance cultural journalist from Denmark, based in Berlin. She has studied at the University of Copenhagen, Berlin University of the Arts and at Copenhagens Academy for Music, Dance and Performance with awarded choreographer Kasper Ravnhøj. She writes about theater, performance and music for publications like Weekendavisen and Gaffa. Writing for Exberliner since March 2016.