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‘We need to normalise sexual desire’: can a rope bondage show empower women?

by Ace Damon
All i see swallow

A young woman is strung above the stage, a delicate lattice of red ropes crossing the bare skin on her thighs and ribs, leaving a patchwork of exposed flesh. It's the startling opening of Everything I See I Swallow, a show that won a Fringe First at the Edinburgh festival this summer, a two-handed play by actors and airmen Maisy Taylor (the suspended woman) and Tamsin Shasha with director Helen Tennison. .

What Taylor is demonstrating is the art of shibari, the secular practice of Japanese string captivity, which began as an elaborate way for samurai to restrict their captives and evolved into an erotic art. Your first thoughts may be: this seems like a niche interest. But it is the spark of a play that talks about something universal and pressing, about women's rights to their own bodies, the ramifications of digital life, and this old and complicated question: will it ever be empowering for a woman to take her? la clothes in public?

Shasha plays Miranda, a woman horrified to discover that her artist daughter, Olivia (Taylor), is posting semi-nude photos of herself online. The impasse that follows is a primer on contemporary feminism and sexuality in the internet age. The fact that the couple did their homework is evident (thinkers from Andrea Dworkin to Beyoncé are checked) and the occasionally heavy script can be learned consciously, but the fact is that it is a fascinating, ever-evolving and complex territory. .

The pair represent an extraordinarily frank but believable mother-daughter bond, the calm possession of Taylor, 25, versus the charged energy of Shasha, 53. Airism is contemplative and illustrative, the umbilical attachment of mother and daughter extends to the growing girl, or Miranda ties herself to literal and figurative knots with the argument in question. Different modes of text stand out: conventional scenes, direct addresses to the public, quotations from feminist theory and naturalistic voiceovers.

Contemplative and illustrative aerialism … All I see Engulo. Photo: Claire Clifton Coles

Taylor's monologues are some of the most authentic-feeling sections and his character is semi-autobiographical. "It's something I've been exploring in my life anyway," she says of the show's subject when we talk after a sold-out performance at London's Jacksons Lane Arts Center. “I spent three years at circus school and when I left I started working as a cabaret artist in a strip club. I was performing string shows, mostly nude, and was trying to explore why people have such strong opinions about women in sex work and women posting nude pictures online. And if this behavior can be strengthened or if it is always part of the problem. "

Some of the things Taylor talks about in Swallow raise important questions about how we raise girls. As a child, she was always told that she was beautiful, to the point of resenting the evaluation of a quality that seemed to have nothing to do with who she was. She caused her to disassociate herself from her body, she tells us, and the unexpected way to reconnect was through shibari, finding complete peace by deliberately relinquishing control.

It's a fascinating personal story, but incorporated into the show's narrative raises many questions: Who holds the power when you put an image in the public domain? How do you manage the difference between intention and reception? After all, one person's art may be another's porn; You may feel empowered, but you can still be objectified.

All i see swallow

In us … Tamsin Shasha in All I See, I Swallow. Photography: Ambar Dandrea Photography

Olivia's fourth-wave feminism plays with her mother's perspective, with Miranda struggling to protect her daughter and the hard-earned gains of her equal generation. Shasha feels the same way. "But we need to talk about these things," she says. “I want to have this conversation. I was very awake doing the show. "

I ask Taylor about her mother's reaction to what she does. "My mother is great, she's very supportive," she says. Taylor's parents were part of the New Age traveler movement and had a very open mind. "My family trusts that I have good reason to do what I'm doing," she says. There is a condescension to women who are "outwardly sexual," she thinks. "Yeah, they can't know what they're doing, they need to be helped. And no one who knows me would ever think that."

For Taylor, all of his work, whether it's a shibari show, circus show or strip club, is a form of research, and Swallow is a vehicle for discussion, not a conclusion. "The fact that we don't know where we sit is part," she says. "I know there's something wrong with the sexualized images we see of women every day, but I don't think the answer is to take sex completely out of life – it won't work. We need to normalize desire and sexual expression instead of having it like this secret that everyone carries with them and is terrified, because somehow it's anti-feminist. ”

Challenging, provocative and funny too, Swallow is a brave dissection of the intergenerational division in which people are undeniably political.

• All I see swallow is in Arena Theater, Wolverhampton, October 9; Cornerstone Arts CenterDidcot, October 10; and Lakeside Theater, Colchester, November 6-7.

. (tagsToTranslate) Stage (t) Culture (t) Dance (t) Theater (t) Women (t) Sexuality (t) Feminism (t) Parents (t) Family (t) Circus (t) Life and style

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