The Secret Life of Women

What the wind blew in: 'Secreto y Malibu'
Courtesy of the Walker Art Center

A woman walks downstage, clicks on a small fan, and cools her face. Slowly. The amber and gold lighting evokes the onset of a hotter-than-average day. A small stucco house, bare brush, untilled earth: The surroundings seem parched, desolate. Secreto (Ines Rampoldi) is the woman who inspires the stagnant air to move. Another young woman, Malibu (Leticia Mazur), emerges from the house only to climb its rooftop, searching for something to break the monotony. They are an ageless pair--teenagers trapped in a no-hope town, young women asserting their identities, the restless spirits of crones who once idled away a steamy summer afternoon.

This culmination of the female experience, represented through an intimate evening-length duet, is the force behind Argentine choreographer Diana Szeinblum's Secreto y Malibu, which will be performed this weekend at the Southern Theater as part of the Walker's Out There series. "They are not really sisters or friends," explains the 38-year-old Szeinblum of her titular characters by telephone from Austin, Texas. "They have no special relationship, just contact in the same moment. They happen to live in the same place and have a very particular way of expressing themselves."

Indeed, Rampoldi and Mazur in the title roles undertake very unusual activities, from smearing beet juice on their wrists to rubbing their eyes with fresh-cut onions. When they move together, it's with a rough-and-tumble sort of unison--grounded, grappling, with lots of grunting. At times they seem to threaten violence, but their emotional warfare is far more potent than anything their physicality can produce. In one scene, a man walks through pausing only to kiss Secreto and Malibu. Just as quickly, he disappears like a desert mirage. All of their pleasure goes with him.

Szeinblum--a Buenos Aires resident who spent several years in Germany studying with dance-theater legend Pina Bausch--captures some of her mentor's wild-woman energy but also assiduously asserts her own voice. She makes Secreto y Malibu appear to exist in a vacuum. "One of the most important things we can do right now," she observes, "is to forget where we come from."

Szeinblum does, however, share Bausch's commitment to portraying women as strong and sometimes unruly beings. Her work is feminine but not necessarily feminist--there is nothing overtly political in its messages. Szeinblum explains that Secreto y Malibu is about what a woman desires, and how, when a woman feels that nothing will actually happen, she is forced to create her own dreams and dramas. Still, Szeinblum is reticent about giving the audience any clues as to her characters' intent. "What I want to do is really simple, but the way that I want to express it is not simple," she laughs. "I don't like to make anything intellectual out of it. Just make your own trip out of the piece. It's very open."

Secreto y Malibu does not comment on fate. As the women toss their way through a day that could just as easily be one in the string of many to come or the very last of too many that have passed by, we sense that Secreto and Malibu are teetering on the verge of madness. And yet there are no pat conclusions to be made about their particular psychoses, no morals to their story, no clear explanations for their predicament. "One moment we're looking at them," says Szeinblum. "The next moment we turn on the lights and go home. But they stay there. This is their life."

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