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Flash Review 3, 8-23: Fringe NYC
Wanted: X-Cheerleaders

By Vanessa Paige-Swanson
Copyright 2000 Vanessa Paige-Swanson

"I'm not a feminist," says the 23-year-old, sexually active, happily single woman with a master's degree and a full time career. "I'm really not a feminist." We are in the dressing room at a female performance art festival. We are putting on makeup. It is 1997. The 45-year-old college professor in the video swivels her head on its axis and takes in the younger woman's fashionable ensemble. "You're wearing pants," she snaps. "You're a feminist." O.K., so it's not that simple. But spend an evening with "WANTED: X-Cheerleaders," as I did last night at Context Studios, and "women's issues" are simultaneously demystified and turned into a rollicking evening's entertainment. In addition, the choreography is as precise and snappy as the message.

Created by conceptual artist and director Kim Irwin and choreographer Jody Oberfelder, the 10-woman squad of former cheerleaders ranges in age from 19 to 53, and embraces a variety of races and body types. Bouncing out in actual cheerleading uniforms, they begin with the traditional "Hello" cheer, but after that, all bets are off. Topics range from childbirth ("Push it out, push it out, waaaaayyyyyy out"), to condoms (C-O-N-D-O-M-S!!). One of the most effective cheers tackles society's ever-increasing obsession with thinness, chanting "Abs, thighs, buns of steel, Puking after every meal! Weight Watchers, Lean Cuisine, I gotta be what's on the screen!"

The choreography also twists the traditional. Rapid-fire stomping, clapping and jumping combined with precise floor patterns, virtuoso acrobatics and even a split or two, at once acknowledges the art form and tweaks its nose. Brief moments of private sensuality collide with public displays of enthusiasm; like the cheerleaders of our memories, there are undercurrents at which we can only guess.

At roughly 55 minutes, the performance is exactly the right length. Like the high school tease they satirize, these cheerleaders know that less is more. A larger screen for their intelligent, authentic video would be money well spent. This is a minor issue, however. An old adage states that "feminism is the radical idea that women are people". At a WANTED: X-Cheerleaders show, feminism is as inclusive as wearing pants.

"WANTED: X-Cheerleaders" repeats Thursday at 11:30 PM and Saturday at 10:30 PM, as part of the New York International Fringe Festival. For more info on the festival, which runs through Sunday, visit its web site.

 

Vanessa Paige-Swanson is a New York City-based choreographer and writer.

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