Context Notes: Jeanne Mordoj

Jeanne Mordoj

“On ne naît pas femme: on le devient.”  [“One is not born a woman, one becomes one.”] -Simone de Beauvoir, Le Deuxième Sexe

French physical theater artist Jeanne Mordoj has a penchant for playing with her food. Not just any food: eggs.  Raw eggs.  In one of the most arresting sequences of her 2007 solo production Eloge du Poil (In Praise of Hairiness), after a talking badger skull convulsively vomits and dies in a pile of empty snail shells, perhaps losing an escargot speed eating competition, several eggs are slowly rolled down a chute, one by one, and onto the stage.  Mordoj, who dons a beard for the duration of the show, breaks open the first egg, separating the yolk and discarding the rest, and rolls it around to the back of her hand.  As she slowly raises it, the yolk begins to roll softly down the length of her left arm, across her breastbone, over to the right, and all the way down to her other hand.  It begins to take on a simple, amoebic character, accruing tiny meaning, describing a journey, a striving. The precarity that we all know it possesses by its very nature is for a moment being defied, but the tension of the inevitable is felt in the whole of one’s body.  Traveling back, at her clavicle, it begins to descend, across her breast, down her torso.  She deftly scoops it off the front of her dress, at her belly, and places it on her bare thigh.  It slowly travels down her leg, as she raises it for us to wonder at, and then, just below the knee, seemingly without the slightest provocation, it suddenly oozes and spreads, its compactness and protective structure somehow quietly burst. A sorrowful gasp emerges from the audience.  In a sequence that has lasted all of perhaps a minute, we have quickly and empathetically attached ourselves to the yolk, truly captivated by its beautiful and miniature life and death.

The egg is rich with associative meaning:  fertility, nourishment, and fragility, as manifest in the powerful strength of the shell and the naked vulnerability of its contents. Using the body and its relationship to thoughtfully cultivated objects as a means of building poetic, surreal imagery, Mordoj creates a world unto itself, allowing her pieces to accumulate layers of meaning, revealing themselves as they bizarrely unfold. The female body, in particular, with its cultural significance and relationship to the past, is refracted and metaphorically construed by Mordoj’s unique process, driven most singularly, as Mordoj tells it, by a continued discovery of the personal: “I’m 42 years old.  How do I want to speak about femininity and especially the feminine body today? How to celebrate this? My relationship with my body is really different from ten years ago–how can I approach this quality of freedom I feel?  So the work is based primarily around the feminine body, in a joyous way.  I’m always interested to show different facets of femininity–also the dark sides.  All my work comes from that, and it changes with my own evolution.”   

In La Poème (2010), Mordoj continues her exploration and distillation of what it inherently means to her to be female, in surprising and unexpected ways. For those who saw Marlene Monteiro Freitas (an arresting performer in Trajal Harrell’s (M)imosa) in her own solo piece Guintche at the Queer New York Festival in June 2012, there are striking relationships in the studied use of the face, passing through intense and complex (and often mysterious or ineffable) emotional states.  Also present is a yearning to move beyond expected ideas of the feminine, to shatter as eggshells the notions of the familiar, as in the final moments of Faye Driscoll’s You’re Me, where Driscoll dons countless versions of a performed female self with increasing desperation and tension–a cry for acceptance, for recognition, for release–attempting to burst through our known experience of the body into something new and unknown, some wide open space where we can only define ourselves from within, where there are no pre-existing rules or roles.  La Poème sees Mordoj build a mask for herself from familiar eggy materials, transforming herself, ritualistically, into something both historic and mythic.  From there, she takes us to a place we can only know by joining her.

–Aaron Mattocks

Aaron Mattocks is a Pennsylvania native, Sarah Lawrence College alumnus, and 2013 New York Dance and Performance (Bessie) Award nominee. He is an associate artist with Big Dance Theater under the direction of Annie-B Parson and Paul Lazar (Supernatural Wife [BAM Next Wave, 2011], Comme Toujours [NYLA revival, 2012], Man in a Case with Mikhail Baryshnikov [Hartford Stage, 2013], and Alan Smithee [Lyon, 2014]); and has created roles in premieres by Doug Elkins, David Gordon, Stephen Petronio, Jodi Melnick, Steven Reker, Phantom Limb (dir. Jessica Grindstaff/Erik Sanko), Yoshiko Chuma, Christopher Williams, Ursula Eagly, Kathy Westwater, and John Heginbotham. He has appeared as a guest artist with Faye Driscoll, John Kelly, Dean Moss, and David Parker and performed in projects by Courtney Krantz, Abigail Levine, and Amanda Villalobos.

He recently completed a year as guest editor for Movement Research’s Critical Correspondence, and as guest curator for Sarah Maxfield’s One-Shot. His writing has been published on The Performance Club, Culturebot, Hyperallergic, Critical Correspondence and in The Brooklyn Rail.