Caitlin rates it:
Butt. Ass. Badonkadonk. Booty.
In a bootylicious-obsessed society, these words have become synonymous with the female posterior region, though they are seldom flattering. Examining this hyper-sexualized view of the female body, The Saartjile Project takes a closer look at how women’s bodies have been objectified.
Deconstructing the Myth of the Booty uses the story of Saartjie (Sara) Baartman to introduce the objectification of the black female body. Also known as “Hottentot Venus,” Saartjie Baartman was a member of the Khoi San tribe located in South Africa. She was enslaved and later brought to Britain in the 19th century where she was put on display because of her “large buttocks and elongated labia.” Baartman was viewed as an “oddity” due to her physical stature, and unjustly forced to perform around Europe at the entertainment of ill-treating men. As if this degradation wasn’t enough, when Baartman died, her body was dissected and put on display in Paris until 1974. It wasn’t until 2002 that her body was returned to her home in South Africa, finally putting the mistreated woman to rest.
Baartman’s story is used as a platform on which the women of The Saartjie Project have built vignettes of song, spoken word, and dance to bring to light both the beauty of the black female body, and the hardships that are unjustly attached.
Deconstructing the Myth of the Booty is sprinkled with entertaining and thought-provoking pieces, though not all of the segments seemed to touch the audience. As with any collection of vignettes, the challenge of maintaining a steady rhythm proved to be a big one for The Saartjie Project. Down time between pieces hurt the flow of the performance, and too often the audience was left counting the seconds between pieces. An attempt at a common thread was appreciated – a re-occurring “Heroine’s Note” that used the echoing voice of Sara Baartman combined with a single candle held on stage, however, this was not enough to fully mold the whole show. Combating this disjunction were a handful of women who managed to captivate the audience whenever they were on stage. Margaux Deloitte-Bennett brought her soothing and comforting-yet sensual voice to many of the scenes, and because of this, I found myself waiting for her next entrance on stage. Deloitte-Bennett was bright and inviting on stage; sadly, only half of the cast seemed to share her commitment and warmth, as many of them seemed stiff, and even awkward. The Myth of the Booty ran the gamut from engaging actors to timid wallflowers, making a bit of a distracting combination.
As for the content of the show, the women (who all contributed to the writing of the production) presented strong ideas and some heartbreaking problems. Though the focus of the show is on African-American women, many of the issues presented could certainly be shared amongst women of any color or nationality. “Therapist’s Couch,” a monologue in the second act, made a statement that seemed to encompass the main ideas behind many of the scenes. The woman mentions being cat-called at by a gaggle of men and asks, Am I supposed to dress plain and boring because some other people can’t control themselves? Why does being beautiful, and being proud of that beauty have to carry with it harassment from the opposite sex? Any woman who has ever been gawked at, endured absurd cat-calls from, or slapped away the hands of a less-than-well-behaved man could find comfort in this woman’s statement: why can’t women flaunt their own beauty without being objectified?
A bit of tweaking could be done to make the show more cohesive and a bit more engaging, but overall it made for an entertaining show with a strong message.
Written and performed by members of The Saartjile Project
Reviewed by Caitlin DeMerlis
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