Zhauna Franks’s Her Hysterical Nostalgia (at the Open Eye, April 7-11, 2011)

I’ve been thinking of getting away. I’ll go someplace elemental: fire, water. When I get there, I won’t be me anymore, but new—the star that I am under the thing that I seem to you and myself to be. The sick little mysteries and masteries, the dismal satisfactions, the stinky histories and hysterias—I’m leaving all that behind.

You know it won’t work, though. There’ll be sirens in the water, winding their silky stupid hair round the unbaited fishhook, just dying as usual to be dinner, and the fire’s dizzy with sacrificial virgins, all screaming some name or other as they dive in. And then there’s me. Honestly, I can’t go anywhere without taking my makeup or my lookbook of attitudes—bathing beauty, speakeasy charmer, blushing birthday gal—all so tattooed on or burrowed under the skin that I can’t tell anymore what came naturally and what I stole at Walgreens with the Bonne Bell. Strip to my soul and it’s just more of the same: total eclipse of the heart.

I’d like to propose a new award: Post-Feminist Tantrum of the Year. If you have a vulva, you know this is a necessary category, and if you were at Her Hysterical Nostalgia you know by the howls (possibly welling up from your own drunk kundalini) that that year’s winner is Zhauna Franks. Can I get a yes ma’am for the moment when Franks flails in a little box on stage, all harnessed up to fly and fuel to burn, but with nowhere to go but around and around like a music-box ballerina? Sample the aesthetic she’s cooked up and you’ll know it’s what you need, ladies. . .

Dance & dancers. Wind-up dolls with legs for days, Barbie’s stiff hips and plastic feet melting to expressive sweeps, the mechanical and made-up always tempering and tempered with the heartfelt. Lately I feel like I’ve been watching choreographers who don’t love their dancers; that isn’t Franks. Stephanie Fellner, Christine Maginnis, and Kimberly Richardson (and Franks herself) get the star treatment here. Even when they’re showing you torment, they look sleek, strong, and happy—and they make you feel the same way.

Detail & design. The secret pleasure of sniffing your wrist. Being flexible enough to kick your own ass (now there’s the successful woman in a nutshell). Franks pays attention and her dance repays your attention. Or take that box I mentioned above: prison, chamber, stage, it starts the show wound up in gauze like an open wound. Clinically bright or splashed in psychedelic bloodstains, it’s a metaphor at once obvious and multivalent. That last gesture—wrapping it up in black tape like bra straps—where does it leave us?

It leaves us, I’m afraid, where I’ve got to quibble with Franks. I understand the desire for revelation, but I can’t get with the yoga party peace-out ending. I know they have some letters in common, but yoga is not god. It’s just yet another system for describing and circumscribing the body, and as such, fuck it. And not to get utterly grimy with theory, but this whole dream of purity is a historically masculine hysteria rooted in fear of the (feminine) body—its urges and messy changes, but mostly its burgeoning death, i.e., self. That closing image: tape up the box? No thanks, Franks!

Sans ending, though, this one is a treat. I’ll definitely be packing it in my Kaboodle for my next shark-fishing expedition, flashy hooks, pink meat, and all.

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About lightseydarst

Originally from Tallahassee, Lightsey Darst writes, dances, writes about dance, and teaches in Minneapolis. Her book Find the Girl was published by Coffee House Press in April 2010, and her awards include fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Minnesota State Arts Board. She also hosts the writing salon “The Works”.
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