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  • Kate Gaul


Updated: Jun 22, 2023

4/5 Smashed Barbies

Choreographed and performed by Bonnie Curtis

The Flying Nun

As we enter the performance space we encounter a bare female torso. The woman is facing an old-fashioned dressing table with wrap-around mirrors. She sits on a child’s size chair. She is still. We take in details – a tree tattoo, musculature, a severe blonde topknot. Even as the dance begins we don’t see this woman’s face for some time. She denies our gaze and yet this solo performance by Bonnie Curtis is all about the gaze. The expectations that come with seeing and being seen. The atmosphere her still body creates as the audience assemble is electric. The dance explodes in fits and starts – occasionally graceful but more often grace turned in on itself, the body contorted, and the shapes extreme. It is beautiful.

Returning to the dressing table, the brutish woman speaks in a grunt language and reveals a set of mostly headless Barbies. With plasticine she re-models body parts, taking the best from each doll. The maquette is stuck on the mirror. As a reference for beauty? The piece is humorous as the dancer/choreographer is commenting as both a woman and dancer. Dance - where women have served as "empty vessels," a blank canvas onto which choreographers and directors project their vision. This makes the woman an object, someone never entirely in control of her own power—and that connects to everything, including not knowing how to speak up, to find one’s own voice.

Familiar territory perhaps. In the hands (and body) of Bonnie Curtis this exploration has enormous power as she deftly uses time – every moment and activity on stage is presented as an almost durational event. I became transfixed by the specificity of the work and impressed with its confidence. In Bonnie Curtis’ first solo piece these ideas are expressed with the maturity and grace of a committed artist. “Limits” is an original and exciting work. Dance contains multitudes: It is an art bolstered by athleticism, a means of storytelling that can connect to social issues as well as daydreams. It has space for feminism.

The blurb tells us “Limits” is the story of a grotesque creature navigating the world through the lens of a stereotypical “hot-body”. A creature trying to live up to the expectations of the world around her, riddled with insecurity and self-hate. Sabotaged by her limitations. It delves into identity, societal expectations, and examines limitations, stereotypes and experiences as a female living with disability.

The work is supported with elegant and atmospheric lighting design by Lucia Haddad and an intelligent and sensitive sound design by Fiona Harding – both newcomers and names to watch!

Once again the team at The Flying Nun prove themselves to be canny programmers – finding the new, the best and the brightest (and sometimes the wackiest) of local talent. Providing space and time for artists to flourish is a gift and I encourage everyone to check out and support the program.

Kate Gaul


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