It’s not unusual to feel overwhelmed, heartbroken, overjoyed, angry or grief stricken. Those feelings are what make us human, but what’s more interesting is what we do with those emotions. For Western State Colorado University Donielle Carr, her feelings over the past year manifested in the upcoming show at the Gunnison Arts Center (GAC) called “The Gaze.”
“The Gaze” combines dance, theater and spoken word to express the issues that arise when women are gazed upon as objects. The idea was inspired by critical theory which examines the underlying power structures within the act of seeing.
Feminist studies recognize the sexual imbalance in which the male gaze projects a fantasy onto the female figure. This dynamic oppresses women into objects of male desire, and even though we exist in this world, it can sometimes be hard to see.
“I felt like I needed to release it in some way that I hadn't yet been able to do,” explains Carr, who knows from personal experience the difficulty of dealing with these issues. So she started talking about it.
At first, Carr reached out to a school therapist, where she addressed her feelings and how to deal with them. Both agreed it would be beneficial to face those feelings and deal with them. So she did.
“It was all hitting hard and I knew I wanted to get it out, and I knew I wanted to get it out now,” says Carr. “So basically this show is art therapy for me.”
The male gaze might seem like a small transgression compared to issues such as sexual assault or domestic violence, but for Carr, each instance of this imbalance in the sexes speaks to what it’s like to be a woman today.
“That’s what this show is all about, this whole narrative journey that expresses how it starts, how it progresses, what you can potentially do to make it better,” says Carr.
Yaya Carrillo, who performs in the show, heard about the production through a mutual friend, Kenna Allen. Allen, who also created the accompanying art on the event’s promotional poster — the dark, unwavering male gaze — dances in the show as well.
“Dance itself embodies this empowerment,” says Carillo. “You hear the music, your physical body follows the sounds. When someone dances you see the emotion on their face and in their body, it emits an energy.”
Carrillo was inspired by all of the strong women (and men) involved in the production, starting first and foremost with Carr. It’s inspiring to see Carr, who not only choreographed these performances, but directed, danced and wrote each piece herself, Carillo says.
For Carrillo, the performance speaks to the daily struggles women face, which modern activism such as the “#MeToo” movement have brought to light through speaking out against sexual violence and harassment.
“I wanted to convey how it feels,” comments Carr. “How do you really explain how it makes you feel inside?”
“Nobody wants to be preyed upon, or worried that they’re going to be followed home, or worried you’ll be whistled at on the street,” Carrillo adds.
Each transgression leaves a mark — whether it’s an instance of domestic violence, being cat-called or being slut-shamed. Carr hopes to not only shed light on those moments, but also make people think about the experience of being a woman.
“I would hope for a just a little more understanding of these kinds of realities that women deal with on a daily basis,” she says.
“The Gaze” will additionally donate part of the proceeds to Project Hope, whose mission is to support, educate and provide confidential advocacy to individuals affected by relationship violence and/or sexual assault.
“I think it is helping, just being around everybody and having them be so supportive,” says Carr. “It’s been phenomenal.”
What: “The Gaze”
When: March 29-31. Doors open at 7 p.m., curtain at 7:30
Where: Gunnison Arts Center
What else: Appropriate for ages 16-plus. Tickets are $12 for adults, $ for GAC members, seniors and students with ID.
(Kate Gienapp can be reached at 970.641.1414 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)