Like a still life, a hammer and nail are projected onto screens on both sides of the stage of the International Theatre Amsterdam. They form the opening image of Apollon Musagète XL created by Florentina Holzinger. Given Holzinger’s radically feminist approach to performance, the image will hardly astonish. Shortly after, a naked woman enters the stage and after addressing the audience she takes the hammer and starts driving a nail into her nostril.
This is only the first frightening instance of what turns out to be a series of balancing acts between female freedom and fetish. Apollo may have given his muses specific attributes related to their symbolic virtues, Holzinger’s muses clearly have their own qualities and obsessions. Julidans presents an XL version of the show Apollon Musagète, and either you hate it or you love it. Florentina Holzinger’s controversial work, which features a strong fascination for penetration alongside fearless body piercing, has already stirred up quite some debate.
In front of the backdrop with a painted sky of clouds, a big, mechanical bull is unveiled, as a centrepiece on a pedestal. It is first mounted by two naked women, one sitting and slowly riding the bull’s moves, the other draped face forward over its back. With short pauses the one sitting slaps the other on the buttocks, the latter laughing out every time she is hit. The bull towers above a huge mattress that keeps inflating and deflating during the performance, and serves as both a safety net and cloud cover.
This symbolic masculinity is stripped and attacked during the performance. Utterly funny is the downing of a long, pink balloon by one of the women claiming it reaches her stomach and subsequently pulling it out of her vagina. And, ’Hey little girl is your daddy home? Did he go away and leave you all alone? I got a bad desire,’ listening to Bruce Springsteen’s lyrics to I’m on fire brings out an entirely different meaning.
Interlacing ballet, a freak show and the fitness craze, Holzinger and the other women on stage are sharp as knives in their efforts to dismantle our gaze. There is even a naked camera woman running around, who films and zooms in on every detail on stage.
Apollon Musagète XL is hilarious, downright shameless and at times repulsive. However, as there is hardly time to linger, it’s hard to stick to whatever emotion rises to the surface. And, bearing in mind that the choices these women make are conscious choices, we should think twice before judging their actions. In the end the performers and the audience have power over one another, a notion that this performance clearly, and convincingly, questions. The only point of criticism is that after some time the shock effect starts to wear off. The stacking of scenes and ideas – not all of them as strong – is too much to let it all sink in. Which is paradoxical, as the implications of some of the women’s actions can be pretty serious. Perhaps that is part of the question Holzinger wants to raise: how much empathy is there in our gaze when we look at others?