Silvia Calderoni’s show makes us behave like the voyeurs of a peep show. The only difference is that she shows us not only her body, but the anxiety and pain as well caused by her physical otherness. A REVIEW BY PANNI PUSKÁS.
We do not choose the role of the voyeur, the performance assigns it to us. On the one hand we identify with the mother’s scrutinizing eye, who, ever since Silvia Calderoni was a young child, pointed her hand-held camera to the family like a gun to record their weekdays and holidays together. As a consequence, during the show we see a lot of footage of Calderoni as a child and as a young person, whom we would call a boyish girl if we still had the inclination to think in such mundane terms after the performance.
On the other hand we identify with the gaze of perverted men, who according to the story go to the peep show to pleasure themselves where Calderoni (or the character played by Calderoni) makes a living by showing off her androgynous body. We really want to know what is between her legs, so we watch tensely when she drops her underwear and moves her genitals around in a thin laser light. We stare curiously, and we may even imagine that the discovery will bestow upon us some important knowledge, and we shall learn the truth about her and the whole phenomenon. How huge this blunder is will be made clear by the play itself, as the issue is much more complex than the presence of certain genitalia or lack thereof, and its roots are not to be found in Silvia Calderoni, but in ourselves, in the social gaze that we in this moment direct at Calderoni.
The approach to transsexuality in the 21st century urges a change of paradigm: it states that the binary scale with man on one end and woman on the other is inadequate for the exact
definition of gender identity. Instead it offers a spectrum that enables it to regard gender identity as a personal freedom, abandoning the man-woman dichotomy. Which school of thought is more correct is a controversial topic even among gender scholars, but one thing is for sure: the show titled MDLSX argues for the spectrum theory.
One of the most intriguing aspects of the work of the two directors, Enrico Casagrande and Daniela Nicolò, the founders of Motus, is that fiction and reality are absolutely inseparable. The story is rather simple: Silvia Calderoni is born as a girl, she is raised as a girl by her parents, but during puberty her genetic peculiarities come to light. Perhaps one of the most shocking twists in the plot is when Calderoni reads her medical files after an examination, and sees the recommendation to transform her into an actual woman by way of surgery, since she has been raised as a girl anyway. In other words: gender overwrites sex even when that carries numerous negative consequences regarding the person’s sexuality and fertility. The character played by Calderoni escapes from her parents at that point, lives his life as a man for a while, becomes the spectacle of a peep show, and finally returns to his or her family living the life of an intersexual.
During the show we hear borrowed texts from feminist manifestos and essays, and from Jeffrey Eugenides’s novel, Middlesex, the abbreviation of which gives the title of the play: MDLSX. At the same time it is obvious that on the home videos in the background we see Silvia Calderoni in various phases of her life. In our strained effort to locate the exact position of the frontier between fiction and reality we can recognize the same motivation as in our desire to find out whether to regard the performer on the stage a man or a woman. We think in terms of categories, which is totally normal, as without categories we could not even deviate from our system of categories. Suffice it to say: intersexuality itself is no more than category. The problem is sooner caused by the gesture of enforcing categories. Why do we think that a story can only be authentic if we are able to precisely untangle fact from fiction? And why do we assume that a human being can only be a full member of society if he or she decidedly represents one sex or the other?
And even though the questions above begin forming in the minds of the viewers during the performance, learnt behaviour is very difficult to switch off. Of course the show itself also enforces it, artificially separating the performer’s body and face. Calderoni faces the crowd only when silent, her lines are spoken into a microphone with her back turned to us, her face is sometimes captured by a camera, we see it on a screen in the background. We are able to see, however, without any mediation her slim, muscular body, which at times looks like an unusually strong female body, at other times like a very slight male body (this obviously also depends on the garments worn in the given moment – Calderoni changes several times during the play). I cannot tell when, but I do reach the tipping point, after which I am able to leave the world of categories behind, I cease to look for male and female characteristics on the body, accepting it as it is. This is much aided by Calderoni’s exciting personality, self-image and magnetism – I find her special and beautiful.
The performance is constructed like a good alternative rock party from the early 2010s. The scenes are structured around alternative pop music tracks from the 90s and 2000s. The songs are started by Calderoni on a laptop placed on a table at the back of the space, where there is a mixer too. Calderoni acts and deejays at the same time, and operates the GoPro camera directed at her face. Some of the songs go well with the details of the story being told, others less so, they are rather reflections of Calderoni’s moods in the past thirty years. Since Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity we know that our lives are best segmented with the help of pop music. At any rate, this is true of Silvia Calderoni’s life, the firm points of her past are provided by The Smith, Vampire Weekend, The Knife, Air and Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
When I'm pondering the differences between myself and another human being, and I have difficulties understanding him or her, or perhaps our disparate circumstances makes understanding impossible, the easiest way to make a connection is thinking about our similarities. I categorize: I look for common ground, a quality or a habit characteristic of both of us. There are few people with whom I can point to such a clear-cut case of common interest, as with Calderoni, for in the past twenty years independently from one another we have been burning the same songs into our brains, and if I ever did a show about my boring cisgender life, I would want to use the same tracklist.