PHILADELPHIA — Ally, an exhibition at the Fabric Workshop and Museum in Philadelphia, is a collaboration between artist Janine Antoni, choreographer Stephen Petronio, and movement artist and activist Anna Halprin. The result of years of cross-country rehearsals, the exhibition uses ephemera, performance, and soundscapes to perform a real-time study of the materiality of objects and the effects of the aging body.
The first performance I saw was a version of Halprin’s 1999 work “The Courtesan and the Crone,” reworked for the museum’s mostly concrete, tunnel-like seventh floor gallery. Halprin created the work at age 79 to address her own aging, changing body, and tenets of traditional (white and Eurocentric) female beauty. For Ally, Petronio takes on this role of the coy, elegant courtesan, expanding the embodiment of the character across gender lines. A tattered, red curtain lied on the far end of the space as Petronio slinked through, his face initially covered by an ornate mask. With a series of simple gestures indicating a conventionally feminine physicality — subtle shoulder rolls, the grabbing of a breast, a foot slipping into a pair of high heels — Petronio conjured a mystique that was both beautiful and grotesque, a female form in peril, trying to reclaim any sense of youthful exuberance while time moved against her.
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