Rosana Cade has a mastery over the human heart. Her work can jump in through your ears, or down your mouth. It can wiggle its way around your organs, pausing to graze your heart as it goes, and it can settle in the pit of your stomach. In My Big Sister Taught Me This Lapdance, Cade quickly creates such an environment for the lone audience member. They leave, cupping the weight of responsibility for womanhood in their hands, ferocity and vulnerability seeping through their fingers like dripping blood.
Walking: Holding, Cade’s earlier work, which asks an audience member to walk around a town holding hands with a stranger, was about the power of touch. Here, Cade bans us from the very same thing which there created such a feeling of comfort. “Hands by your side. No touching.” The gaping hole from the lack of touch is heavy enough to pull you both over, tumbling through the black booth and rolling into a corner of the Arnolfini, bound tightly in layers of fire, patriarchy, feminism and sadness.
It is difficult to explain how getting a lap dance from a naked woman can be such an enormously heartbreaking experience. Cade’s older sister worked as a stripper, and taught Rosana this lap dance. They performed it together in a show called Sister, and the performance artist has continued to develop it as a solo piece, although the influence of her older sister is ever-present. Cade has divided the piece into two halves. The first half asks us to watch. The second, to reflect.
Cade stands on sharp heels, naked, a long wig throwing her face into shadow. She leans on you. She writhes on the floor. She asks you to look.
She touches herself but she is dry. It is one of the more uncomfortable moments, as you are reminded that she is not turned on by this and it is a performance just for you. Here, the force of the audience’s gaze is electrifying and is deeply entwined with a sense of guilt.
The piece does not pretend to provide an answer to the moral ambiguities of sex work, what it means to be a feminist and a stripper, or what it means to be a woman. Yet it celebrates the strength of the female body. Its imperfections, its differences and its power.
It feels more intrusive and intimate to look into Cade’s eyes than at her naked body. When she breaks eye contact it is an invitation to look at her skin, to take her all in. She is unshaven and even that simple fact makes me want to thank her.
My Big Sister Taught Me This Lapdance is a mixture of the intellectual and the cheap. It is sexy and sad. It is fierce and throwaway. It is collapsible and fixed. It is about watching and being watched. It is destructive in its emotional weight. I left wanting to weep. This is an extraordinary experience and Rosana Cade is an extraordinary woman.
My Big Sister Taught Me This Lapdance was on at IBT17 in Bristol. Click here for more details.