Winterlab: Look Mummy, I’m Dancing
When: Saturday night
Where: Metro Studio
Stars: 3 stars
It’s brave to bare your own story on stage, especially one as intimate as Vanessa Van Durme’s.
Look Mummy, I’m Dancing is a one-woman performance based on Van Durme’s memoir of the same name, which chronicles her life as “the first Belgian transsexual.” And while the stage version is nothing out of the ordinary in terms of theatricality, the story is an important one to hear.
We meet Van Durme when she enters the stage barefoot in a pink slip. The choice of clothing seems significant. While it hugs her curves, it also doesn’t obscure the original parts, like strong feet and arms. She launches into a story about a couple she saw grocery shopping and it feels very much like we’re sharing coffee with a friend in her home.
Van Durme was born a boy in 1948 and studied drama at the Conservatory of Ghent, as a young man. He travelled to Morocco in 1975 for the back-alley surgery, in the decades before you could get a vagina with “enough points on a supermarket fidelity card.” While she finally felt she had a body that fit her, she quickly learned she’d always be considered “an outsider.” She lost her company theatre role and worked as a prostitute for years, before returning to the stage.
The stage is very sparse and there’s no fancy lighting, save for the final moment of the performance, when it narrows to a spotlight.
Where there’s some space for improvement is the structure and pacing. This story shares a common difficulty with any autobiographical work: We have a series of milestones rather than a story arch that builds momentum. There are several moments of on-the-verge-of-tears tenderness, for example. On their own, they’re each very honest and touching performances. But strung together from beginning to end, they lose their full-punch potential.
Still, Van Durme has been smart to weave in both recurring themes that give it unity, like her ongoing dialogue with God. It’s a weighty story by nature, so her she’s done well to lighten the mood in many cases with dry humour. Most touching, however, is her depiction of her parents — especially her mother who senses she’s been born in the wrong body from the beginning. It’s not an entirely sentimental depiction and her parent’s own struggle is communicated.
Van Durme is undoubtedly achieving her stated purpose of showing that people who are 'slightly different' are still people.
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