When Labels Don't Define You (Performance review on "MOTUS MDLSX" @ HKIBBF)

13 Nov 2018 | Ashley

This is another impressive production presented by the Hong Kong International Black Box Festival,  a festival of collaboration between Hong Kong Repertory Theatre and West Kowloon Cultural District. This time around, they brought to us MDLSX, a one-person show directed and produced by the acclaimed Italian Company Motus.

Performed by Silvia Calderoni, a multi-award-winning actress and artist from Italy, the audience had the opportunity to sneak a peek into her autobiographical tale as a gender-bendy person in a pre-dominantly binary society. At the beginning, the screen at the back of the stage showed a video of a little girl singing karaoke in the shape of a circle. This was shown for quite some time, and I was questioning where the show was going with this. Little did I know that this little girl was actually the actress herself when she was a child, and that soon, she would elevate this moment to a mix of emotional personal tales and rock n' roll power house.

Portrait of actress, Silvia Calderoni from booklet

They had a very simple set: a long table across the stage, on which there were a DJ mixer, a mirror and some other miscellaneous items, and on the floor a triangle golden carpet that pointed at the audience, plus a screen behind to show childhood clips and subtitles (the show was in Italian). I would say it was very minimalistic. But this was no obstacle for Silvia to absorb the audience into her story. When she first came on stage, I was captured by her androgynous appearance and high energy. I was also shocked to see that she talked to a camcorder and a mic which were set at the table, while she had her back facing the audience. Her face was only shown on screen. This resembled a DJ set performance, which corresponded to Silvia herself being a DJ in real life. Anyhow, for a theatre performance, this was a format of presentation which I had never seen. It was inevitably a refreshing sight.

Catalog of MDLSX

Lights and sounds contributed greatly to the abundance of the show despite its minimalistic set. I have to applaud them for the amazing playlist they had for the show. Snippets of songs were played between narrative descriptions by Silvia of her own story. Since I am a fan of the Belgian hip-hop musician, Stromae, I was excited to hear his song playing. I swear it felt like a party. The lights made it more so. There were at least two moments when spinning colorful dots were projected to the walls near the stage. Since the black box is a small venue, I felt that this light effect was comparatively more effective in affecting the audience since we were closer to the stage, and thus, the lights. I was enjoying myself.

Despite the fun aspect of the show, it was intertwined by the serious and contemplative story that Silvia had to tell. There was one scene where she pointed a piercing green light at the audience from her vaginal area while she lied on the ground. This was, in my opinion, to represent the brutality of the medical field diagnosing her little "penis" as abnormal as she lied down for examination. As a member of the audience, I could not help but grow closer to her as she became this fun figure with a painful past. She almost became a close friend, and I had an affection for her as she disclosed more and more information about her intersex situation while combating with society's rigid conception of binary labels.

Catalog of MDLSX

My most memorable moment of the performance is when she fell to her knees at the realisation that her having a little "penis", according to the dictionary she read at the time of her life, was equal to being a "monster". The word "monster" was echoed over and over by the DJ mixer like a ghost, as the light dimmed into dark blue. Then there was an abrupt long silence, as we watched her limply walk into the darkness at the side of the stage. We heard her sobbing and panting. That was a moment that really clenched my heart. I had in me this urge to go up on stage and give her a massive hug. This was a climax extremely well-done.

All in all, I loved this show with a passion. It brought me on a fun, emotional, personal and contemplative ride. I liked the intimacy of the simple set and the lights which gave me the impression that I was in the bedroom of a close friend, just blasting music as usual while we danced and exhausted our negative energy accumulated by the pain of our stories. This production undoubtedly deserves a standing ovation!



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