Sunday, July 8, 2012

Cantina: Questioning Gender Roles in Society and Empowering Women

By pushing their bodies to perform titillating feats of strength, balance, and skill the performers of Cantina create a sensual world of power plays that push audiences to question gender roles in modern society. The effect simultaneously startles, amuses and thrills the audience as they gasp and exclaim in rapt attention lowering their barriers to sexuality and how it is portrayed in gender roles.

Cantina being a burlesque show that has no female nudity is the first challenge that is presented. Throughout the performance we are constantly being reminded of female modesty. The first time we witness the tribute to the modest female is when the main female performer Chelsea McGuffin is about to walk across the tightrope and she tucks the midsection of her dress into her underwear to prevent it from lifting up and exposing her under garments. The next seen we see this is with the second female lead, Henna Kaikula, did her flexibility act and she kept making a fuss and pretended to get embarrassed every time her dress came up over her backside and would quickly pull it down (even though she was wearing bloomers). This act of preserving female modesty is a way to empower women by no longer making them objects merely to be looked at for the sake of seeing their exposed flesh, but instead turns them into a spectacle to be revered for their power.

The evidence of their power comes in the physical prowess they display in all of their performances. Henna Kaikula had audience members gasping in delighted horror at her double jointed flexibility act where every part of her body seems to be broken and out of alignment. She balances and flips her legs around in complicated ways that dazzle and charm. Another example is the final act where Kaikula is balancing on wooden blocks on stakes over a bed of broken glass. After every carefully balanced maneuver, another member of the cast would take one of the stakes away until there was only one block on which she could balance. These acts portray their power, control and mastery over their art and it even more pronounced when both female performers start to walk across the broken glass. We see this point made again and again in each act that the women are in. This is particularly emphasized with the symbolism of McGuffins shoes. Stilettos are normally seen as a symbolism for sex and women who wear them are meant to pose naked in front of a camera and be fucked. However, Cantina takes that symbol of female subjugation and turns it into a symbol for female power and control. The audience is amazed and awed when McGuffin is seen tight rope walking in high heels. We tense, our bodies taught and stretched, seeking balance physically and metaphorically as we watch her walk across the tops of wine bottles in her heels dreading the potential fall and questioning what it means when she doesn’t. We gasp in horrified excitement when she walks all over one of the male performers in her high heels and forces him to balance her one his shoulders, in his hands, on his back, and legs whilst her heels dig into his skin. This is the ultimate message of female power: men will bend to her will.

By giving females all the power, Cantina is forcing the audience to face a world that is controlled by women where men bend (quite literally) at their bidding. There is a fight scene between McGuffin and one of the male leads that is fraught with sexual tension and violence. Again, Cantina counters the preconceived notion that the man will win because he is stronger and the women always lose in domestic violence fights (it honestly reminded me of a rape scene). Instead, McGuffin fights him off and beats him with a silver tea tray and walks away with a confident set to her shoulders and sneer twisting her painted lips.

Another scene that forces the audience to question gender roles and may indeed be the most important because its unexpectedness rattles the audience so that it causes them to question and analyze what they are seeing is the scene with Mozes doing the folding newspaper trick whilst completely naked. What makes this scene even more emasculating is that it is a comedy scene so his nudity is seen as a source of humor and shock instead of in a carnally sexual light. The male nudity was so unexpected because when one hears the word burlesque we think of dancing half-dressed women. When this turns out to not be the case we are given cause to pause and deliberate on why we felt there should be female nudity instead and why we would have found that more acceptable.

Overall, Cantina is a visually rich performance that envelops its audience so much so that they forget the world they left outside the curtain and start to believe (or rather allow themselves to accept) that a society where women can hold their own and be appreciated not just for their looks, but for their capabilities can exist and still be sexually appealing and all encompassing.

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