Even before arriving at YYZ gallery, a steady beat of loud rhythmic slaps could be heard from the hallway of the 401 Richmond building. Upon entering the performance space, the noise was revealed as the stomps of two tall blonde women wearing snowshoes. The stoic women had their arms extended in front of them wrapped around large red yoga balls. They were carrying the inflated balls in front of their chests and abdomens. The women were dressed in a more revealing version of traditional alpine folk costume; suspendered grey lederhosen micro-shorts and cropped white milkmaid style blouses exposing bare shoulders and midriffs. The women wore no make-up. They wore their shoulder length blonde hair down. Their long bare legs lead to white fur-lined winter boots strapped into their oval shaped snowshoes. These were the only props and accessories. The bright red colour of the yoga balls contrasted sharply against the muted non-colours of the clothing. The room was otherwise empty except for the audience members and the loud shudders of the slapping snow shoes.
The performance was comprised of two distinct parts or acts that blended into one another. The first set of gestures had the women maintaining an equidistance from each other, as they made their way clockwise around the perimeter of an imaginary circle the size of the room. They were not walking, but rather stomping their snowshoed feet to an unaccompanied beat approximately one stomp per second. Without warning they would suddenly turn on their heels and continue with the stomping in a counter-clockwise direction. They remained equidistant apart on a smaller imaginary circle. Again they would pivot making the circle smaller and drawing nearer to another. Eventually, the woman would come so close to one another, that as they turned to pivot, their protruding yoga balls would collide, knocking the women off their seemingly magnetized pull and back onto their starting path. At no point did the women make eye contact. I later learned that the pattern they were following was a celtic knot. This spiraling went on for quite some time. I counted 22 stomps between collisions. The perpetuating stomping path to collision went on for about 20 minutes when the performance transitioned seamlessly into the second act.
Rather than colliding at the center of the room, the women suddenly dropped their yoga balls on the ground and sat face to face, with knees interwoven on the red yoga balls. They sat staring expressionlessly at one another for a minute or two and then began to gently bounce. Gradually the bouncing became more pronounced. With each bounce the balls made a squish and the floor a small creak. Another few minutes passed and then the women began to play game of silent ‘patty-cakes’. They did not speak out loud or break their stares. The only sounds were the rhythmic handclaps of the girls mirroring each other, and the squishing/creaking sounds made by the balls. This went on for about fifteen minutes before the women quite suddenly stood up and transitioned back into the first act of the performance. It seemed the transition was one of girlhood and play into womanhood and labour.
Unlike other fertility rites, where traditional symbolism and gestures are used, the TallBlondLadies' "Potential Fertility Rite" used untraditional symbols and gestures. Symbols of winter and summer were used concurrently; clothing was summer, footwear was winter. The lederhosen the women/girls were wearing fall into the category of german menswear, the old traditional snow shoes allude to traditional Swedish culture but the white snow boots were brand new an of contemporary fashion. Traditional fertility issues like menstruation or childbearing were possibly alluded to (the red balls= menstruation, womb, pregnant belly, red + pulsing = heartbeat, or symbolic of life.) but there was no reference to the natural world. Where a traditional fertility rite might use flowers or plants, the TallBlondLadies used latex.
Rather than a spiritualized, sexualized, celebratory or even emotive invocation, this performance was cool and calculated. There was no graceful dancing, no organic flows or motions in the performance. The TallBlondLadies did not embellish, adorn, or exaggerate their femininity or sexuality, despite the revealing costume. Everything was rigid. It was like watching the cogs and gears of a swiss watch, or a perpetual machine operating; with every collision providing the inertia to sustain the actions of the next cycle. The TallBlondLadies' sense of time and synchronization was impeccable at first, early in the evening. But as time went on and the performers began to tire, a few mistakes or breaks to the synchronized cycle were made. They recovered well from these, at least in the hour or so that I spent at the performance. One women would stay in place until the other recovered. The rhythmic stomping induced a meditative state in me. I believe it was the same for other members of the audience. I applaud the tall TallBlondLadies for the level of discipline, concentration and endurance (both physical and mental) that it requires to perform in this manner for five hours.
By Stephanie Sirant
Established in 2003, TallBlondLadies is a collaborative performance project between Anna Berndtson (Sweden) and Irina Runge (Germany).
Stephanie is a student of Johanna Householders at the Ontario College of Art & Design (OCAD)