A Lady's Guide to Perfect Gentility
"Women are the only exploited group in history to have been idealized into powerlessness."
~ Erica Jong
Choreography: Sarah Hixon
Music: Serenade No. 10, W. Mozart
Costumes: Jessica DiBattista
A Lady's Guide to Perfect Gentility delves into the effects of 19th century repressive social norms on women. Inspired by early feminist writers such as Charlotte Perkins Gilman, the work attempts to physicalize the emotional and psychological suffering women faced during this time. Laws, social mores, and misguided "medical" practices often resulted in women having little or no existence outside of the home. Women were seen to be both physically and mentally fragile, prone to fits of "hysteria." These devastating stereotypes and controlling patriarchal systems, while certainly not new in the 19th century, found a strange dichotomy in art, theater, and literature. For example, male fantasies, especially regarding women's sexuality, were a staple of the ballet stage.
In this piece, the themes and descriptions from Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper" came especially to mind. While the piece makes allusion to other imagery (the opening tableau, for example, is a direct reference to the iconic "Three Muses," one of many classical uses of the female form to represent the ideal) the action of struggling against descending into madness was provoking. The dancers are squeezed, grasped, restrained, thrown, startled, and silenced. They stumble and falter thoughout the piece. Moments of stillness or inertia are juxtaposed with quick, often violent phrases.
The incredibly sensuous yet delicate Serenade for Winds by Mozart was purposefully chosen as a stark contrast to the overall movement quality. It is also interesting to note that some scholars refer to Mozart's style as often "feminine" and that his strong female characters may mark him as the first "feminist" composer.