Jury's out on Bitch on Heat
Fran Gibson | On 29, Nov 2018
‘It was moving poetry!’
‘It was problematic!’
‘It was honest. Haven’t you ever felt like that?’
‘I’d have walked out if the genders had been the other way round.’
If nothing else, Bitch on Heat is divisive. Proving true the aphorism that we see things not as they are but as we are, this is a tale of two reviews – of how two people can attend the same performance but see different shows.
One thing is agreed: Leah Shelton – all sinew and sincerity in Miley Cyrus’s Wrecking Ball costume – gives a brave, committed performance in her experimental solo show.
However, opinion splits when it comes to the tricky subject manner of (predictably, given the zeitgeist) implied consent. Art about sexual politics in 2018 is numbing in its ubiquity. If it can’t be original, it had better be good.
Whether it is or not hinges on audience interpretation. Is it one woman’s emotional journey following a less-than-sexy sexy time? An individual’s personal growth towards self-embodiment? Forty-five minutes of man hating, sufficiently virulent to make even the most ardent feminist think aw, they’re not that bad?
‘I don’t know what the message was.’
‘Does it have to have a message?’
‘I need art to say all the things I can’t.’
‘It did that’.
‘If you’ve got something to say, why can’t you say it through a good, old-fashioned linear narrative?’
‘I viewed it more as dance.’
Certainly, movement and soundtrack trump dialogue. Billed as anti-burlesque, it’s burlesque insofar as there’s stripping and nudity (don’t take your dad), but it’s wilfully unplayful. Tit, yes. Titillation, no. With its aped femininity and lip syncing (culminating in Kesha’s triumphant ‘Woman’, but of course), it bears a closer resemblance to drag.
Bitch begs the question what is art for. Does it hold a mirror up to life? Not any life I’ve shaken hands with. Is it entertaining? Is it thought provoking? Is it a conversation starter? Yes, yes and yes. All of the above. Just don’t ask what the point is.
Pre-season performances of Bitch on Heat ran 22 – 24 Nov at Brisbane Powerhouse as part of Wonderland 2018. To find out where you can catch it next follow Leah Shelton on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.