New Orleans dance cohort FLOCK is heading overseas this summer where their new choreography, The Lipstick, will be presented in Berlin Germany.
We decided to catch up with Artistic Director Meryl Murman and ask a few questions…
What is The Lipstick about?
The Lipstick explores the desire to belong, and the discrepancy between how we as individuals perceive ourselves and how we are perceived by others. In particular the piece questions ideas of masculinity, and also the relationship between one’s identity and geography.
Why might it interest German audiences?
It examines nationalism, the politics of space, especially what that looks like for migrant people, for people whose geographies are changing or are denied access to certain spaces. Universal themes, but significant ones to the current climate in Germany.
What was the starting point?
In many ways this began with very personal questions around my own perceived gender, my roots as a Lebanese-American, and what it means to be part of a diasporic culture.
The true genesis of this piece began seven years ago. I felt this urge to document the oldest members of my family on video and record their oral histories. I was trying to understand my present through the act of looking back on a past that was beyond me; to my grandmother, or even my grandmother’s grandmother. In recording memory I was as interested in what was left out of the story as in what was shared.
What was your first rehearsal like?
The room was small and I had big movers. Out of necessity I brought in folding chairs to use the vertical space. However when we arrived we were told we could not set the chairs down on the floor, so we agreed to rehearse on these small scraps of carpet. The politics of space were already at play. We never looked back.
How did you make the choreography?
I work collaboratively with the artists in the room – people who do not share the same roots as mine, but who could relate to these questions of identity in their own way: what does it mean to be a Mexican American? A transgendered person? Queer? Orthodox? We have all experienced the trauma of being boxed in and labeled.
Putting the conversation into a physical space allowed us to dig deeper into our own boundaries, and questions surrounding migration, assimilation and integration.
How is this piece different than some of your other recent work?
I like to make a mess, but with this piece I focused on order and systems too. It combines virtuosity with something messy, risky and vulnerable. Flipping between beauty and profanity is a great challenge.
I’m always interested in dance as a wound, in exploring an intimate brutality through physical durational challenges. I want to play with the risk that audience and performer can mutually partake in.
How do the current events of the Syrian crisis effect the piece?
We began working in January of 2015 with written source material and research from or about the Middle East, its complex history and western orientalism, its current tapestry of displaced people and closed borders. Six months into the process Syrian refugees started flooding into Europe. Our exploration moved fluidly between the specifics of current events and the universal complexities of identity.
Additionally our location in post-Katrina New Orleans highlighted questions around being a refugee, of displacement and re-building, of transgressing de-humanizing systems of power poignant to our journey. The piece begins by asking each audience member a question – one that someone who has been displaced from their home has likely had to think about.
Red lipstick and its power of transformation have played a subversive role in my life. From my earliest memory of smearing it on my face, the cosmetic has always appealed more to my sense of the grotesque than of the pornographic. I’ve used it as armor, as a mask, as an act of rebellion. I have used it both to defy and define my sex and my race. There was a time in my life I wore it militantly. I enjoyed the disruption my “scary red lips“ created because I’m not a very imposing person. Fashion trends change, but I look back on that time as an informative anthropological performance study.