Dublin Fringe Festival 2017: MDLSX
A Shy Exhibitionist
“MDLSX.” Middle Sex. A sex caught in the middle between both sexes. As if cut by a laser beam right down the middle into two distinct halves. Those familiar with Jeffrey Eugenides celebrated novel Middlesex, will be familiar with much of the tale and territory “MDLSX” explores. Yet not all of it. For with “MDLSX,” developed by Italian based Motus, there’s more to the story and a difference in the telling. Part projection, part music, part autobiography, part monologue, and all Silvia Calderoni, “MDLSX” blends and bends the boundaries of the theatrical as much as those of gender. In a stunning performance, as simple as it is profound, "MDLSX" challenges what we think we know of gender whilst simultaneously making voyeurs of us all.
Directed by Motus founders Enrico Casagrande and Daniela Nicolò, “MDLSX” explores notions of self in relation to gender and the body, with all three being both fluid and changeable. A story about being designated female at birth and developing male genitalia at fourteen, “MDLSX” explores the personal journey to self acceptance told by way of music, literature, confessions, and recollections. A self mediated through memory and media. Projections see English translations of Italian text set next to family and personal video recordings, as well as live projections on the night, delivered via a 1970’s TV styled porthole evocative of The Brady Bunch. With their back facing the audience for much of the performance, Calderoni manipulates music and images like a demented DJ. The result can feel like watching a teenager making their own, personal video diary, whilst compiling the playlist soundtrack to their life. An eclectic soundtrack referencing everything from Buddy Holly to The Dresden Dolls to The Smiths. Throughout, “MDLSX” places us as voyeurs who watch as Calderoni dresses, undresses and redresses, both themself and gender. As Calderoni flits in and out of shadow in a complex dance, "MDLSX" seems enmeshed in the idea of striptease, with body images, digital and physical, mediated through withhold and partial reveal, once again making voyeurs of us all.
Like any autobiography, there are sections that are far more interesting to the writer than to the rest of us. "MDLSX" is no exception. Talks on Marxism and other ideas can linger a little too long at the expense of personal recollections in a number of places, limiting deeper engagement. Prolonged spells speaking to camera with back to the audience also limit possible avenues for a deeper connection. If lack of eye contact reinforces the eyes closed idea, making the eyes open, looking at you looking at me moment incredibly powerful, it’s a double-edged sword. For Calderoni is superb, and never more powerful than when facing the audience directly, which you want more of. So compelling is Calderoni upon seeing the 'word' in the dictionary, the distinction between character and performer evaporates in a moment of raw heartbreak that is indescribably moving.
A tale from the furious diaspora, “MDLSX”, is a powerful, poignant and compelling performance. We might spend most of the time looking on, and looking in, which risks seeing the projected and half hidden Calderoni as idea and image, but Calderoni is happy playing with ideas and images. Playing with performance, playing with what you can see, with what you think you can see. And with what you think you know. In the end “MDLSX” doesn’t offer answers. It only asks more questions, whilst asking more of us.
Look at me? Look at me now? What do you really see?
““MDLSX”” by Motus, performed by Silvia Calderoni, ran at The Project Arts Centre as part of Dublin Fringe Festival 2017.