S/He is Nancy Joe is a movement and visual performance piece that utilizes a unique style of street ballet in conjunction with animation, projections and recorded sound. Miřenka Čechová combines hip-hop, pop and lock, physical mime, contemporary dance, and classical ballet with interactive comic book visuals and spoken narrative to create an art form that is truly contemporary. S/He is Nancy Joe tells the story of questioning and gender identity.
“This performance is a documentary dramatization of the stories of those transgender people I have been privileged to meet, and to live and become friends with,” says Čechová. “All are amazing, strong, and exceptional people who have enriched me tremendously as a person and as an artist. To them I owe the ability to see further and deeper. They have also taught me how to consider beauty and meaning from a new perspective.”
What the critics are saying:
"But most impressive of all is simply Čechová's body, which she turns into a battleground of self-identity and societal censure. Amid all the imaginatively used technology of this show, that body is an element of surpassing wonder." - Sarah Kaufman, Washington Post
“This performance wakes people up and opens their eyes.” — Jakub Novák, Aktuálně
“Perfect synthesis of the worlds of drawing and theatre…” — Radmila Hrdinová, Právo
“Ethereal physicality…” — Peter Marks, The Washington Post
Awards: The Best of Contemporary Dance by The Washington Post (USA), Herald Angel Award, Edinburgh Fringe Festival (UK), Young for Young Festival main award (CZ), Nomination for Czech Dance Platform Festival award (CZ)
Performances: Czech Republic, Scotland, India, Korea, Poland, Cyprus, USA
It’s a paradox that artists in any medium struggle with: The best art comes from personal excavation that unearths what we least want others to see.
In other words, what we hide from the world is what audiences will respond to most. So it is that Mirenka Cechova’s solo docu-dance, S/He Is Nancy Joe, strikes a particularly powerful chord as it takes us deep into the confusion, shame and isolation of the transgender experience. (Scissors loom large. Just warning you.)
That Cechova, 30, a native of the Czech Republic, delivers this roller coaster of the soul through comic-book projections and a mashed-up dance language that borrows from hip-hop, ballet and the ooze of melted wax speaks to her theatrical talent. As does her ability to perform so freely within the confines of Flashpoint’s tiny black-box space. Her fractured, loopy narrative feels authentic, and she achieves this through wholly unrealistic means. Every one of her movements is stylized. The visuals that accompany her performance are rough-drawn, often-crude sketches (by fellow Czech artist Milos Mazal, with animation by Tomas Tomsa Legierski). Matous Hekela’s sound composition of warbles and groans is an indistinct landscape of turbulence.
This hour-long fantasy, presented here in its only U.S. stop, hits so hard because it springs from honest origins. Cechova has a transgender sister who used to be her brother. This piece, as she told me in a phone interview, arose from efforts to reconcile herself to that. In the process, she spent two years speaking with other transgender people, who shared with her their diaries and private pain.
As a result, what Cechova may have initially longed to bury, she embraces in a most intimate way. In “S/He,” she embodies the mirror image of her sister’s experience, showing us a man imprisoned in a female body.
As she interacts with a cartoon alter ego projected behind her, we see flashes of childhood teasing and bathroom awkwardness. Puberty engulfs her in an especially visceral way: A sea of red bleeds across the screen, we hear what sounds like explosions and Cechova, staring bewildered at the betrayal of her crotch, twists herself into a picture of tragicomic humiliation that the middle-schooler in everyone can surely recognize.
As much as she immerses us in a world of anxiety, Cechova also has a light touch. “S/He” is poignant but also terrific fun. And I’m not just referring to all the winged genitalia that flutter merrily on-screen as her character contemplates the physical equipment she longs to possess. Some of Cechova’s contortions reminded me of Pina Bausch’s corporal exaggerations; other moments brought to mind Gene Kelly’s responsive wit in “Anchors Aweigh,” in which he dances with a cartoon mouse.
You want dramatic? When confronting the surgical fork in the road, so to speak, Cechova’s character is convulsed by what could be pages out of a graphic horror novel. Drawings of organs and incision marks flash by too quickly for the details to register, but we get the idea. Giant scissors blink across the screen to an ominous beat that recalls “Psycho’s” shower scene.
But most impressive of all is simply Cechova’s body, which she turns into a battleground of self-identity and societal censure. Amid all the imaginatively used technology of this show, that body is an element of surpassing wonder. Cechova’s spidery limbs can turn her into a stick figure; a moonwalker; a rough, rubbery street dancer; or a fragile sylph. Masculine and feminine, two dimensions and three, play out on that magical canvas with schizophrenic velocity. There’s a message in that, about the universal beauty of the human form — its nonconforming breadth included.
Cechova is no stranger to this area. A Fulbright scholar who heads two physical theater groups in Prague, she has taught at American University and in 2011 performed in Synetic Theatre’s “King Lear.” Here’s hoping she returns, and soon.
The Washington Post
© Translation by Alex Lorenzů
Theatre thrives more on the stage than in the streets, the Zero Point and Behind Doors festivals continue.
Two brand new theatre productions have appeared at the united festivals of street, dance and physical theatre in Prague, Behind Doors and the Zero Point. Miřenka Čechová, the author, script writer, director and only live actor of S/HE IS NANCY JOE, which had its premiere on Tuesday [translator's note: should be Monday/Tuesday] at the Celetná Theatre, ranks among the best in Czech physical theatre.
Čechová’s new production is inspired by authentic stories of people who had or have problems with their gender identity. She works with a clever mix of motion (Miřenka Čechová), dynamic comics (Miloš Mazal) and sound (Matouš Hekela).
It all starts with a picture of a girl in a red polka-dot dress, who is drawn more to a toy truck than to a doll. The slim dancer in trousers and a sleeveless top might as well be a girl as a boy. Because, as the motto says, “The only way to know a person’s gender identity is if he or she tells you.” For jumping to conclusions based on clothing or behaviour may be quite tricky.
A profound account of chaos and desperation.
Čechová gives us a glimpse into the confusion of a person experiencing doubts of their own identity through motion first and foremost, incorporating elements of classical ballet, street dance and pantomime influenced by comics and graffiti, which are projected onto the screen in the background and with which the dancer enters into an active motion-based dialogue. Both have the same dynamic urgency, further magnified by the sound and music.
Miřenka Čechová controls her lithe body flawlessly and can uncover the depths of chaos and desperation through motion and abrupt shifts in tension. Rarely, a humorous point lightens the serious subject matter. The hour-long performance is charged with a kind of energy that allows no respite for the viewer. And there are very few spots where any redundancy or overt descriptiveness might be felt.
I am going to cut straight to the point before I explain why and say outright that Fulbright Scholar Miřenka Čechová’s S/He is Nancy Joe is an invaluable and spectacular piece of performance art that should be seen by everyone during this weekend’s run at The Mead Theatre Lab at Flashpoint. S/He is Nancy Joe is an in-your-face, real look at the issue of transgender identity and equality through art – not just in America, but in Europe too – as this show hails from the Czech Republic.
According to the show’s description, it’s “a movement and visual performance piece that combines hip-hop, pop, physical mime, contemporary dance and classical ballet with interactive comic book visuals, lighting, sound and spoken narrative,” and not only lives up to, but surpasses its outlined expectations.
Čechová’s movements fit perfectly with Technical Artist and Lighting Designer Martin Špetlík and Sound Designer Matouš Hekela’s multimedia video. The set and costumes by Meghan Raham made the performer and set ‘one and the same.’
Čechová was silent as she conveyed her pain and anguish as a struggling transgender through dance and facial expression. Raham’s set was made up of white screens – and Čechová’s costume was white too – where lights and video were synchronized to her movements along with music. In the beginning, it seemed as if there wouldn’t be a clear plot line, but the journey of the character grew obvious as the show went on, and it was easily accessible to any audience member open to learning more about the presented topic.
There were several moments that moved me the most. The first was the opening that represented a child growing up awkward and alone in a world full of labels. Čechová had a way of portraying that pain through mime that put my emotions on a roller coaster ride. The next was when the character hit rock bottom mid-show when the solution of gender reassignment surgery was described as ‘self-mutilation’ and part of a deeper ‘psychological problem.’
However, the moment I loved the most was when the character grew to love the skin he or she was in near the end of the piece – and celebrating with a dance filled with sweeping movements and surrounded by vibrant colors on the video screen and bright lights.
S/He is Nancy Joe is an experience that made me realize how little transgender issues are spotlighted in today’s society, and hopefully this high quality collaboration will bring this seldom discussed and misunderstood topic to the forefront when playing to many audiences around the world.
Open your mind and see into the mind of a beautiful transgendered character presented by the artistic genius of Miřenka Čechová.