In “Am I two?” Vasundhara Srivastava and Hannah Heyde explore their experiences with society’s expectations of women. This search for updated definitions was presented at the ACUD-Theater from 13-15 April 2023.
Vasundhara Srivastava and Hannah Heyde sit close together towards the front of the stage. Their gaze is turned straight on the audience, unmoving, while we all filter in. After everyone has settled into a seat, two different definitions of the word woman are projected on the upstage wall. Wikipedia describes a woman as an “adult female person.” The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a woman as “belonging to a particular category (as by birth, residence, membership, or occupation).” The incompleteness of these definitions is reinforced by a series of questions played over the loudspeakers.
What does it mean to be a woman?
The gazes of the two dancers slowly roam from left to right, occasionally making eye contact with individuals from the audience. I am not sure whether I interpret reproach in this or curiosity about the reactions to be found in our faces.
How does society see women?
Abruptly, their bodies change position: from relaxed in their seats to a pose straight out of a fashion magazine. Legs crossed, one hand draped elegantly over a knee, chin slightly raised.
What do you think when you hear the word “woman”?
Different possible answers appear on the black wall of the ACUD Theater. Mother, (girl)friend, housewife, female, womanly, … More and more of these close associations accumulate in the dark room and move Vasundhara Srivastava and Hannah Heyde from their places on the floor and around the space.
A dance begins, in some moments powerful, in others sensual; now affecting in its hardness, in the next instant in its softness. The two shift constantly from synchronicity that uses canonized movement to individual motifs. This choreographic structure makes clear that the way they experience being a woman is not the same. However, recurring holding, lifting, and embracing emphasizes that they support one another.
Each movement seems to be executed with intention. An arm stretched forward, fingers spread, is filled with yearning; a long stride with a flexed foot filled with determination to fight one’s way forward. Vasundhara Srivastava repeatedly holds her arms in front of her face in a protective gesture. Hannah Heyde strokes her hand multiple times up the axis of her body along neck and chin, as if she wants to throw up, to hurl curses. I am most touched by the moments in which the two dancers, holding one another, find a kind of peace. These are moments that are seldom given stage time in such a pure form. In “Am I two?” they are taken seriously. The performers embrace an, for a short time, nothing else happens. The dancing bodies become resting bodies. The music quiets and is replaced by the sound of breath steadily slowing. Here, “Am I two?” presents an interesting provocation. I recall the question What do you think when you hear the word “woman”? from early in the performance. An association that I am certain had not come up for me at the time was one of resting bodies, of recovery and pause.
English translation by Cory Tamler