'Fe/Male' explores gender through dance at Intermedia Arts

​This weekend, choreographers Melissa Rolnick and Jeffrey Peterson present their experiment in the performativity of gender with Fe/Male, an evening of dance works originally choreographed for one gender but presented at these performances with both all-female and all-male casts.  

The three dances in Fe/Male -- Rouse, 2x2, and Soaring -- challenge preconceptions about the nature of gender and differences between men and women. "These are pieces that when looking at them, it's really interesting when translated to the other gender," says Peterson. "We're exploring how if the other sex is doing the same movement, how does the connotation change? There's an inherently loaded gender quality about them," Peterson says.


Peterson's Rouse was originally choreographed for a cast of men, and is sensual, sexual, and violent at the same time. The piece relies heavily on partnering work, with suggestive imagery where the performers are "Getting into and out of certain lifts and weight sharing moments where if a pedestrian were to look at it, they'd give them a crooked look," Peterson says. "When you see men do that to each other, it's quite loaded because in our culture there's this lack of comfort seeing men do images that are homoerotic."

Peterson thus explores how those perceptions change when a cast of women do the same movements. For example, when a male dancer is on all fours, with his tail up in the air, and another male dancers climbs onto him from the rear, how is the reception of that movement different when the genders are reversed? Even the simple act of two men standing with their faces very close to one another -- does it have a different connotation than when two women do the same thing?  

Heather Kopchin, who performs in Rouse, says that she has enjoyed being a part of the piece because as a female dancer she doesn't often get to do movements that are so physical. In her dance career, "gender" is not something that really gets talked about, but she has found, generally, that women tend to do more emotional choreography rather than the extremely physical work she performs in Rouse.


Soaring, a dance in the show choreographed by Melissa Rolnick, was created while working with women refugees from Afghanistan and Iraq. She created the solo piece about survival. This weekend's presentation will be performed by both Heather Kopchin and Jeffrey Peterson. "I realize I'm putting Jeffrey in the hot spot -- I wondered at first if it was appropriate," Rolnick says. She found it an interesting challenge working on the piece again a number of years after she originally created it because of the different qualities of movement that each of the dancers have.  

"It's been fun to see the different takes," says Kopchin, who dances in Soaring. "I've been playing more with softness intentionally."  

Rolnick says the seed for conducting this experiment in gender was planted while she was working on a solo piece at ASU called Tar. Daniel Nagrin, a Professor Emeritus, spoke with Rolnick about the possibility of having alternate casts, and she's been wanting to explore the idea since.  
Her piece 2X2 came out of that original piece, Tar. She had two casts of women learning the duet, and decided it would be much more interesting if there were two simultaneous duets, thus 2X2. Rolnick's quartet is about powers shifting, and has a primal, rhythmic feel setting two against two.  

When asked whether dance was inherently gendered, Rolnick replied: "One would think it isn't, but it's so much a part of our culture that it's hard to escape." Even in post-post-modern dance, which attempts to decentralize that gender association, making it more "democratic," Rolnick feels that gender is "inculturated in a  certain way; it's inevitable we have certain associations."  



Intermedia Arts

2822 Lyndale Ave. S.

Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 4 p.m.

$14, $12 students and seniors ($2 off with Fringe Button)

For advance tickets, email [email protected]