Bruce Springsteen in 1984 is the epitome of the masculine man, with his rippling muscles, gristly voice and words of love and power. He’s the type of man who would be comfortable sitting with a beer without looking at his phone.
Ira Brand performs in drag as Ollie, the graphic designer who wants to be The Boss. In an exploration of power, sexuality and desire, she confronts important questions about gender today.
Rocking between stories of sex with strange men, uncertain questioning and lip-synced Springsteen, Brand defies the traditional tropes of the drag king scene in becoming androgynous. Her breasts, chest hair drawn on, are on show as she smashes an air guitar – the costume may be masculine but her female body is swinging free. Brand’s gender in Break Yourself is a blank slate, heavy with layers of performance.
She shines as a storyteller, her clear, crisp voice honest and no-nonsense as she gently deconstructs the subtleties of gender, switching between herself and her character. Her attraction to strong men and sex that’s on the "right side of violence" links to her disdain for apologetic traits in female language. Tapping into the desire to have the qualities of those we admire or fear makes Brand’s piece universal.
Though Break Yourself suffers from a lack of cohesiveness in terms of its structure and story, individually each part shouts about an inherent sense of worthlessness disguised by performance, be it through mannerisms or clothes.
Break Yourself asks more questions than it answers, forcing us to consider the way we perform gender and identity, and how we judge others. Perhaps we’re all just dancing in the dark.