Italian theatre renegades Motus are bringing their hybrid show to Carriageworks for a short run
Don’t bother trying to categorise Italian experimental artist Silvia Calderoni. In MDLSX, a post-punk performance of identity that melts her ‘coming out’ story into the plot of Jeffrey Eugenides’ Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Middlesex, Calderoni’s androgyny is not a puzzle for you to solve. (NB “She” and “her” are the pronouns used by members of performance outfit Motus when describing their colleague; Calderoni identifies as intersex.)
Within a performance that is structured loosely as a audio-visual ‘DJ set’ (with tracks from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Vampire Weekend, Buddy Holly and The Knife – among others) Calderoni uses her body as a prayer and a weapon. At various times she is a mermaid, a cheerleader with body-hair wigs for pom-poms, an escape artist pinned down by laser lights. She dances, she writhes, she shakes her hips and her pants fall to the floor; she carries a camera and projects careless, in-the-moment close ups of her face. She does not, and will not, hide herself.
As home videos are projected on screen behind her, later giving way to a montage of blooming flowers and patterns of light, Calderoni (speaking in Italian with English supertitles) muses on her life and how it does – or frequently does not – fit into the fabric of society as we know it. Having grown up a girl “mistaken for a boy,” later identifying as intersex, she must forge her own sense of self-understanding.
There’s no pronounced point when her narrative converges with that of Cal, the protagonist of Eugenides’ novel about an intersex child named Calliope at birth, and this seamlessness suggests collective experience, community and connection. Just because Calderoni’s experience, and perhaps the wider intersex experience, doesn’t neatly fit within the social structures under which most of us operate, it isn’t necessarily isolating, or rare.
Calderoni returns frequently to dismantling the capitalist thought structures that restrict her. Capitalism needs gender and sexual binaries to flourish as it relies on the traditional heteronormative family unit as its base unit of consumption (consumption being the foundation stone of capitalism), and it’s through challenging these structures that Calderoni finds her own way to participate in the world. She first broaches this by recreating a debate about the unequal distribution of wealth between workers and executives that appears in Middlesex.
In a microphone especially for announcements, Calderoni later declares her allegiance with Jacobins, Leninists, pervs, deviants, and others under the LGBTQIA banner. In her curtain call she wears a shirt that says “My girlfriend is a Marxist.”
For the most part the show is dreamy with an edge, powered by movement to deeply-felt music, but there is one moment ripped from the pages of Middlesex, involving using a dictionary to understand the intersex condition, that makes no attempt to be beautiful. It’s rightly difficult to watch Calderoni, as both Cal and herself, follow its directions to seek further definitions from Intersex to Hermaphroditism to Eunuch, and finally “Monster”.
Calderoni is a mermaid, a cowboy, a philosopher, and MDLSX is an uncompromising, rock music-edged portrait of a self defined by and through music; a Marxist critique of oppression via the lens of assigned sexuality. Calderoni demands acceptance and that her audience be willing to move beyond the thought “But which one are you?” It’s outstanding.