“There’s a big difference between American and Swedish feminism,” says drag queen and performance artist Mica Sigourney. “Swedish feminism became really integrated into government and law in the ’70s, and ‘feminism’ isn’t a dirty word there like it is here.”
Although Sigourney and his partner, Swedish choreographer Amanda Apetrea, dive deep into the intricacies of on-stage representations of feminism and womanhood, their dance-comedy collaboration I’m a Very Understanding Woman — which, having premiered in Sweden, plays three nights this week at CounterPulse — is not an academic treatise on gender set to choreographic abstractions. It’s also about butts, boobs, fake blood, and the pop-culture trope of the “Final Girl” — which is to say, the last woman left alive at the end of a horror movie who slays the bad guy (even if slathered in gore).
“Contemporary dance involves more than just dancing,” Sigourney says. “There’s talking in this piece that rides the edge between funny and upsetting. We reference race, we reference violence. There’s definitely a slapstick element to the whole thing. It’s high camp, and it’s really indulgent in that camp — and I think that comes from my drag experience and [Apetrea’s] curiosity about gender and performance.”
The idea sprang from a joke about jokes. At the beginning of their friendship, Apetrea an Sigourney would poke fun at misogyny in cheeky ways, spurring her to tell him, “You’re lucky I’m a very understanding woman, or else we wouldn’t be friends anymore.” Using the Final Girl as an accessible entry point into the topic of misogyny and women’s emotional labor, the two worked their way into the deep.
“It was really collaborative,” Sigourney says. “We took the phrase ‘I’m a Very Understanding Woman’ as a guideline and we worked with the ways in which we understood or misunderstood each other … When we would talk, we would try to purposefully misunderstand what the other person was saying, so that became part of it.”
The result is a show that includes an exhortation that the theater is a women’s only space, and everyone in the audience must therefore become a woman. It hinges on a solo — performed by Sigourney some nights, Apetrea on others — that poses questions to the audience like “Is this joke funny when spoken by a male-bodied person or a female-bodied person?”
And it’s not didactic in tone, but over-the-top, drawing on Carrie and The Exorcist. Sigourney calls it a “romp.”
“The only time it’s explicit is in the moment of only one of us will do the solo,” he says. “The rest of it is a performance that is really image-based and kind of ridiculous.”
I’m a Very Understanding Woman, nightly through Thursday, Sept. 1, 8 p.m., $19.99-$34.99, at CounterPulse, 80 Turk St., counterpulse.org