Crossing the Fog with Sacha Yanow
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Written and performed by Sacha Yanow, Silent Film was first seen at Danspace in New York City on December 6, 2013. Right from the start, this piece guided the audience on a brief tour of sexualized tropes in cinema, mixing well-known films with buried facts—all in just under twenty minutes. Yanow’s Silent Film is a fortified example of how much can be achieved onstage with a single body, a spotlight, and audio. Three core elements, so simple. And yet, such simplicity is bound to magnify any elements that don’t click, as there is no where to hide an unsorted thought. Not that I was looking for imperfections (there’s no need, they speak up for themselves!), or distracted by any. The piece was immediately engaging with its compelling witty script, and Yanow’s expressive movements.
Performance still of Silent Film by Ian Douglas, 2013.
Silent Film presents the language, physicality and pathos of early silent films to overtly reveal a process of deep social and self questioning. Far from indulgently biographic, Yanow shapes her body and psychic output as the instruments through which questions are explored: about relationships, family dynamics, roles and role models, socialized comfort zones and how to disrupt such habits that pass for what they might not be. The fog is as much a metaphor as it is a zone—the emotional territory to which marginal sects are socially relegated. Crossing the fog means personal and social excavation to Yanow, an act of claiming histories systematically denied in our shared past. It is also the manifestation of a will, the choice to move freely in and out of time with an awareness of obfuscations that pass for accepted truths. Silent Film questions all this, so elegantly.
We didn’t have time to meet and discuss Silent Film until after I returned from a string of art shows in the lingering overcasts of Miami in December. What follows is an edited interview with Sacha Yanow, completed in January, 2014.
Patricia: You walked onstage shielding your face with a cape draped over your arm, like something out of The Shadow. Once your arm lowered, it was distinctly the face of Dracula. Why was your main character, the Little Vamp, constructed that way?
Sacha: Silent Film is greatly influenced by classic mystery/ghost/detective stories like the Shadow and Sherlock Holmes. The protagonist is a purposefully shape shifty mix of a vampire/clown/penguin/silent film star. Black and white. I wasn't thinking Dracula in particular, but certainly vampire. Vampire as a classic type of lesbian trope in cinema, and a predatory role I feel I have played in my own lesbian life. The Clown is another classic trope for queers in film—our sexuality is either a joke or a terror. It is also a role I played in my family and in life as a way to escape and have immunity from family dynamics, to escape from traditional gender roles.
Patricia: Throughout the piece, my sense of time and place was displaced. Was this disorientation a strategy for the shape shifting qualities of the vampire?
Sacha: I placed the protagonist, the Little Vamp, in the present time, and the Theater Organ and Ghost Club in the past: from the silent film era in the US (turn of the century through the early 1930s). The protagonist is in dialogue with her history (personal, family, broader cultural histories). The Little Vamp is recovering her queer/feminist histories. I draw from elements of silent film era Hollywood, including the influence of spiritualism, magic, Russian immigration, lesbian “sewing circles,” Stanislavski’s acting system, anti-fascism activities, and my own family history.