Samira Elagoz’s ‘Cock, Cock .. Who’s There?’ Summerhall, Edinburgh 18th August 2018

I probably wouldn’t have gone to see Samira Elagoz’s Cock, Cock .. Who’s There? because its sexual subject matter is the kind of thing that generally makes me uncomfortable. But an old friend whose suggestions are always excellent recommended it to me very strongly. What impressed me most about the show was the insights it gave me, as a man, into the way that Elagoz, and I guess a lot of other women as well, see men.

It is a brave, powerful autobiographical piece which starts with her telling the audience about being raped by a close friend four years ago. It is not however a misery memoire because she goes on to tell us about, and show us parts of the creative video projects she subsequently devised around intimate meetings with strange men. Aware of the way in which men respond to her sexually, Elagoz started watching them watching her. First we are presented with her friends and family’s reactions to her rape. Then she goes on to show a series of filmed events in which meets men – using a video chat room, Craig’s List, and Tinder – who agree to her recording their reactions to her, some of which have been presented on their own previously as films and in exhibitions.

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Elagoz explains that when she tells people that she’s been raped, they often react very strongly so that she ends up having to deal with their emotions although she was the one who had been hurt. Cock, Cock .. is very cleverly structured to deal with this. She herself narrates her story with all its difficult details in a steady, even way, sitting on a plastic chair and introducing stills and videos from her projects. I winced when we saw one of her friends who, as I understood it, more or less implied that he thought that what had happened to her was because of the way she behaved. Did he say this spontaneously or did she ask him to say it? because obviously society so often reacts by blaming the woman and not the man.

I really didn’t like the look of most of the men she met with, particularly the older ones who talk about taking the dominant role in BDSM sessions. Emotional intensities appear on the screen. When she is raped a second time, while on an artist’s residency in Tokyo, she videos her immediate reactions to it, the rapist’s name bleeped out. It is only towards the end of the show that she finally breaks and cries while being hugged by her mother.

As I’ve already confessed, I found myself feeling fairly uncomfortable looking at most of the men she met. This is not just male, socially conditioned, homophobic panic at witnessing another man’s sexual behaviour. It is also to do with my own history with feminism.

When I was a student in Leeds 1972-6, all the women I knew started going to women’s consciousness-raising groups. Then in 1975 Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper, started his savage attacks on women. When West Yorkshire Police started telling women not to go out alone in the evenings, feminist graffiti began appearing saying there should be a curfew on men rather than women, and one frequently heard phrases like ‘all men are rapists’ and ‘pornography is rape’. I know people my age who still think this.

That’s the personal baggage I brought to Elagoz’s Cock, Cock .. but I don’t think that is where the piece is coming from. Elagoz says she didn’t want to cut herself off from men and recognised that she was still interested in them. It would surely be a mistake, however, to conclude that Elagoz has used the process of making these films and performances to ‘get over’ what has happened to her.

There is a lot going on in the piece beyond the autobiographical level. Cock, Cock .. is a compelling investigation of the way the internet is impacting on contemporary sexual behaviour and the kinds of emotional intelligence required to navigate this. It uses video and performance to bring up, and make us in the audience think about, a lot of issues that some of us at least might find difficult to talk or even read about. It is a reclamation of female sexuality: at the end of the show we are shown a suggestive, deliberately staged series of selfies in which Elagoz, with think lipstick and lots of makeup, looks straight at the camera and allows a thin stream of viscous white fluid to dribble out of her mouth – definitely not the gesture of someone who thinks pornography is rape. And while so many students (including mine) learn about ‘the male gaze’, here is a strong demonstration of the female gaze in action. I’m eternally grateful that my friend told me I must see it.

Brocade. Roberta Jean, Edinburgh Fringe 17-8-2018

I saw Roberta Jean’s Brocade during Nottdance in Nottingham in March 2017 and found it so interesting that I decided to see it again here in Edinburgh as part of Dancebase’s Fringe programme. It had made such a strong impression that I’m sure I could have described it if asked, and yet when I saw it again last night there was lots of it I didn’t remember at all. Obviously pieces change and develop but when I looked at a couple of videos on Roberta Jean’s vimeo channel https://vimeo.com/user2493240 I found the very bits I’d forgotten and initially thought might be new. So maybe this is the sad reality of gradually forgetting? Or perhaps it is just that some dense, subtle pieces need more than one viewing?

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What I did remember: the dancers’ footfalls rhythmically skipping down the channel of performance space with the audience seated in two long rows across from one another. The long slow unison initial repetition of a simple skipping on the spot, establishing a pace, rhythms and energy. Then beginning to travel one way down the channel at the same pace, with again lots of repetition. Gradually complicating itself, different rhythms, different spatial paths, slow, or quiet, or fast and headlong,, sometimes in the channels behind the audience as well as the central strip, and so on. In an interview on the Sadlers’ Wells blog, Roberta Jean explains: ‘Brocade is choreographed as a loom of movement weaving by and around an audience. As an audience member, there is something joyous about experiencing these fleeting moments on a continual loop that stretches down a catwalk. You can feel us move the air around you’. http://blog.sadlerswells.com/roberta-jean-on-movement-mindfulness-and-musical-collaborations/ The image of weaving really captures what the dancers are doing, creating a dense texture of varying rhythmic, spatial patterns.

Spaces: The most obvious difference between Nottingham and Edinburgh was the venue though each was in a very atmospheric non-theatrical location. In Nottingham it was in an abandoned industrial space in the building in which Dance4 is based. In Edinburgh it was in the domed Council Chambers of Edinburgh City Chambers, an C18th Adam building on the High Street that was expensively embellished by the City Council in the late nineteenth century with lots of ornate Victorian mahogany panelling. In Nottingham and I think elsewhere, the dancers had an old worn noisy metal floor installed for most of the runway, and the spaces around us had a dusty, gritty patina. The runway was longer in Nottingham than in Edinburgh. The Council Chamber has a tight old sprung wooden floor which was suitably noisy and a carpet at one end so that when the dancers passed onto it their footfalls became muffled. The room was not blacked out. There was a wonderful view across the roofs of Waverly Station to the Scott Monument and Princes Street. For most of the piece, the lighting just came from the windows and the room’s light fittings, and only towards the end, when it was darker outside, were the room lights replaced by theatrical lights, instantly changing the atmosphere of the piece.

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[The domed ceiling of the Council Chamber]

What I had forgotten: I’d only remembered the running, skipping journeys along the runway. I’d forgotten solos where dancers made subtle, elongated shapes with their arms that twisted them around in complicated ways that threatened to put them out of balance as the choreography turned them to face different parts of the room. Intriguing combinations of shoulder and elbow joints momentarily described shapes that almost made me think they had more joints than ordinary people. Angharad Davies’s atmospheric violin solo, I really should have remembered. One moment that struck me was when the precision of the dancers’ rhythmic footfalls in combination with some energetic violin playing reminded me of beautiful footwork in a Scottish reel (maybe because I was in Scotland?).

What I’m taking away this time: the individuality of each of the dancers but the strong feeling of a cohesive group and the perfect unison of their rhythmic footfalls; the solos; the musicality of the rhythm patterns; and the headlong energy of the women noisily careering along the runway in the warm mahogany glow of the domed council chamber at dusk.

Roberta Jean’s website: https://www.robertajean.org/