Ah, femininity – to embrace, or conceal? A friend, or foe? A social construction, or biologically inevitable? These are the questions former model and business woman Erin Fowler is asking in her new solo theatrical dance performance Femme.
From inside a glowing bohemian Bell Tent, Fowler repeatedly emerges onto a neon-lit catwalk to try on different stages of femininity. Like a real runway, the audience is seated in chairs on either side.
Here, they witness three things: through the partially opened tent, a female body in private snapshots, outside the male gaze; the same female body on the catwalk, physically constructing a self to be validated within the male gaze; and the gaze of other audience members.
There’s no hiding in this show, for anyone. The viewer isn’t just watching Fowler's deeply erotic lap dance or intimate and damaged relationship with food; they’re watching the people who are watching her. They are, in a sense, watching themselves watch.
This is a performance that’s emotionally and sexually charged. Fowler does put herself in a precarious situation: she asks the audience to tear apart the male gaze, despite her many years as a model. At times, sadly, this makes empathy difficult. It’s layered with overt but relatable audio snippets of other people struggling to conform to gender stereotypes. The show isn't presenting avant-garde material: boys are active and strong, while girls are passive and weak. Boys look, and girls are to be looked at. But Fowler does create a unique space in which to consider the role of the female body, regardless of whether or not you have one.