For Dance Fachin’s presentation of Worldly Women, choreographer/performer Emma Bartolomucci draws on her experiences of traveling abroad to inform this evocative dance piece. Having encountered women in different parts of the world—either embracing or rebelling against societal expectations—Bartolomucci weaves together an abstract narrative that suggests and contrasts how women exist within varied cultures.
Bartolomucci herself portrays a nomadic, intensely curious main figure (Namid) who discovers the women of four separate worlds. Each of these worlds has a very different vibe, expressed through colourful shifting light, different musical styles and choreography that provides a visceral expression of the women’s experience.
With no scenery and minimal props, the dancers—Alex Morris, Julia Molnar, Beatrice Kwan and Chenise Mitchell—convey a vivid sense of place. From hyper-sexualized gyrations amidst cascading money to desperate grasping from behind blindfolds, these feminine manifestations embody the pleasure and frustration women encounter as they struggle to understand their own bodies within a societal context.
The choreography is precise when it needs to be—with sharp, striking images that examine experiences of oppression, shame and pride. There is a focus on sexuality as both a tool and an integral element of identity and empowerment. As Namid interacts with these women—and the personal and societal baggage they carry—she finds some way to identify and empathize. This process is sometimes stressful for all concerned, though it feels natural, intriguing and is ultimately rewarding. As each episode unfolds, they respond to and share each other’s movements.
The potential for misrepresentation is an acknowledged concern here, as the inspiration for the show comes from outsider observations of many different cultures. Wisely, the program states that the places visited here are “heightened representations” and not to be understood as depicting any specific culture. The content of the show itself, though resonant and emotionally specific, is amorphous and explores dynamics that exist across cultures rather than contained within or limited to any specific one.
To be honest, not knowing much about it, I’m often somewhat intimidated by dance, and rarely seek it out. I keep telling myself that someone with a more grounded and comprehensive knowledge of the craft would understand it more than I; though, in my experience, appreciation doesn’t require any great, exhaustive knowledge of the art form’s intricate moving parts. If all elements are in alignment, an effective dance piece will find some way into my psyche. And that has certainly happened here: Worldly Women pulled me in and held me tight for its 40 minute runtime.
The final connection made between Namid and a figure named Aki (Mitchell) is particularly moving. Their bond epitomizes the defiant and joyful core of this narrative—women bearing witness to each other’s experience and, though empathetic movement, bridging the conceptual chasm that divides them.