Without knowing it, last night Deirdre Morris challenged every single expectation traditional Albanian society holds with regards to women’s bodies: that women’s bodies aren’t meant to be seen, and a woman that shows her body is loose, whorish, stupid, a target of scorn and ridicule. Morris’ performance, Cracks Are How The Lights Get In, is a lesson in vulnerability, power and the fraught relationship women have with their own bodies. The performance was broken up into several vignettes accompanied by projected visuals and videos, with some movements narrated, and others not.
“My skin is better in the dark,” Morris tells the audience, as she tells us the story of how her body gets sunspots easily, how her mother would put cortisol and band-aids on her spots to make them less noticeable as a child, and how she decided to stop trying to change the look of her skin. This was followed by a story of how she helped pull her brother out of a frozen pond, and how he was embarrassed to be saved by a girl. As she’s narrating the story, she performs against a mostly black background.
In another vignette, dressed in a white dress and performing with a chair, a recording of Morris’ voice tells us the story of her relationship with two her grandmothers and the lessons she learned from them. The voiceover feels like an intimate conversation, the kind had by two people alone over coffee.
In the final vignette, she creates a makeshift clothesline, and talks about friendships she made with two women in New York while hanging laundry out to dry. She talks about being a young, poor dancer in New York, and how these women’s stories of living in Italy and Bulgaria give her a window into another world. There’s ambiguous commentary on the role of tradition in these societies that seem foreign to her, societies that still emphasis tradition, and the community between women that is created while doing traditionally feminine chores together, like hanging out laundry to dry.
The unifying visual of Cracks Are How the Light Get In is that of a box of light, one that Morris attempts to fit into, even when it doesn’t allow any room to stand or move. Within that box is the freedom allotted it to her, and as the performance continues it gets smaller and smaller, until only her eyes remain visible to the audience. She doesn’t have to explain what this means. Restriction of the body, restriction of the free space you can inhabit, this is something every woman and marginalized group can understand.
Morris’ performance was followed by poet and performer Jonida Beqo, stage name Gypsee Yo. As someone who is sick and tired of Albanian poetry that is dead, perfectly rhymed and perfectly timed, it’s like fresh air to actually see poetry performed with some fire. After warming up the crowd with a casual conversation on slam poetry and how she started performing while living abroad, she launched straight into Autobiography, a piece about bearing witness to historical injustice across time and space. Some lines refer directly to Kosovo’s war victims, and the families who wait for the return of bones for them to bury.
In The Sea of Unforget, she describes the experience of being a seamstress for rich, privileged women in Alabama, in Ema’s Poem, she dedicates a love song to her daughter (kind of like an updated and more colourful version of Rudyard Kipling’s “If”), in The Year of Machine Gun Serenades, she tells us about falling in love in a country that is falling apart.In another poem I can’t seem to find anywhere online, Beqo speaks in broken English, telling the story of crossing the border into the U.S., and the loss of identity and dignity that goes hand in hand with fleeing from the unprivileged part of the world to the land of plenty. I felt like I was reliving the experiences alongside her, and it’s no easy task to not only tell one’s story, but make others inhabit your experience. Beqo’s standing ovation was more than well deserved, and she is differently my favourite Albanian poet of the moment.
Salome Kokoladze’s photographs echoed Morris’ references to the body, with self-reflective images of women: women in pain, women bandaged and women in solitude. Some of the images were accompanied by poems, including the must-read Call Me a Whore.