The year 2015-2016 was a big year for me, coming to Edinburgh after working in the Middle East for several years. One of the first things I did was visit the Festival Theatre, where I fell in love with modern dance (I hate dancing, so don’t switch off if you are also not a dancer). Although I intend to continue visiting the Festival, I will also be trying out other venues, for modern dance, drama, ballet and opera.
Transgender Dance: Sound Cistem
It starts with a heartbeat, the dancer-directors Lizzie and Ayden in slow-motion entry, setting the scene of a nightclub featuring two young transgender bodies who are in fact multiple. Sound Cistem is theatrical dance set to a series of pulsing, dance-floor rhythms and the voices of several trans interviewees projected in accompaniment, sometimes humorous or sad, frustrated or high. At the outset, then later and at the end, the recorded voices of Lizzie and Ayden take centre stage: We are trans. This is us. These are our bodies . . . What do you see? . . . We also invite you to look . . . How do we look? . . . How do you look at us?
I'm there in the audience, auditorium lights turning red, then to blue, reflecting against their increasingly shining, sweat-soaked bodies. I'm finding all of this moving, a show about transgender bodies twisting, spinning, strained, responding to a range of emotions. Cisgender representations from the mainstream are left a long way behind, Eddie Redmayne's one-note lachrymosity and refusal to look you in the eye in The Danish Girl, that cisgender assumption of how shameful it must be to be trans, replaced here by a pair of youthful transgender bodies daring and inviting you to watch their rhythmic exertions mutating to the recorded interviews. I'm looking at them as they're looking at us, and I think of trans actress Daniela Vega in A Fantastic Woman, gazing unblinking, defiantly, into the camera in her own dance sequences, owning it, owning her transgender body and the immediate environment. This show is partly about power, the transgender power of bodies taking centre stage and owning it.
This show, Sound Cistem, works on different levels for me, good enough to watch it two nights in succession and like the loop of their movements, good enough to return to yet again. Through Sound Cistem's performance I am given a realization of the words of trans scholar Eva Hayward on a conception of trans-becoming: enfleshing, enfolding elements of her environment within herself and expressing parts of herself back into the environment (2010). Hayward's vision of a transgender ecstasy, a jouissance, unfurls in this show before the audience. Rather than a thing signifying artifice, Sound Cistem embodies transness in its sweat and touch and movement to a pulsating environment shared by others. Ostensibly about them and the recorded transgender voices they embody, it's also about us engaging with their exertion, watching their gradual exhaustion and recovery.
Because of its time and place, Sound Cistem's show represents for me a significant transgender moment. Highlighting the integrity of real-life transgender physicality and connected emotionality, it takes you through multiple stages on a journey situated in both a nightclub and the conscious and unconscious joys and anxieties of trans subjectivity. It's a entrancing journey not to be missed.
Sound Cistem's show continues every night at the Edinburgh Festival until 26 August.
Image taken from Edinburgh Fringe website.