Atalee Judy doesn’t have a reputation for doing funny. Through her critically acclaimed Breakbone DanceCo, Judy deploys a signature blend of martial arts, moshing and contemporary dance (which draws as heavily from butoh as it does from ballet) like dynamite to excavate the dark caverns of sexuality, femininity and violence. Last year’s “Visions of Light” was an exploration of martyrdom and madness, inspired by the life of Joan of Arc and Judy’s father, who battled schizophrenia until his early death. The previous year Breakbone presented a story of a young girl struggling to psychologically survive the aftermath of rape in “Heroine: A Woman’s Tale.” Not exactly light stuff.
Yet in the upcoming “De-Evolution of Mudwoman,” Judy has found whimsy in the creation of a golem. “It’s not all serious,” Judy says with a quick laugh. “We’re playing around with the perceptions of women; trying to say something serious but still have fun doing it.” Indeed, the touch of Judy’s feminist punk rock hand is still present; “Mudwoman” is a pissed-off critique of female constructs in the vein of Breakbone’s 2005 “ONE Series”—an evening of fierce short pieces in which bondage, sexual deviance and self-mutilation are tools of liberation from the oppressive confines of fairy-tale gender roles. But the humorous departures of “Mudwoman” strike chords that combat-boot-clad rage can’t touch. When a chorus of mud-covered dancers sporting bald caps and sumo thongs shake their junk in a mock backup audition, the absurdity of our obsession with “everything that jiggles” really comes to the fore. Judy even delves into bathos with a furious, wailing, stool-slamming solo in which her feverish emotional state is dryly narrated by an onstage translator. (“Upset. Very upset. More upset than before.”)
The light touches leave room for serious moments to resound with depth. Mindy Meyers, in the title role, undergoes a deconstruction from trampy pop diva to an elemental creature of muscle and loam. Her primal solo, to be performed nude save mud and thong, is hypnotic; the graceful power of the human animal smolders in her slow, earth-bound movements, every cell vibrating with awareness and life.
Judy is committed to making her dancers powerful—no surprise from a choreographer who has been transforming ballerinas into badasses for a decade. Her patented Bodyslam technique was inspired by the mosh pits (which she still frequents) and refined through her training in dance, Jiu-Jitsu, Tae Kwon Do and disarmament techniques. “The biggest talent I had studying dance in college was falling. It’s something I did well so I pursued it,” she says. Now dancers come to Breakbone to toughen up and learn how to properly hurl themselves into the floor and each other. Judy’s curious to see the evolution of her cast over the three-week run of “Mudwoman.”
“I’ve been pushing for longer dance runs like the theater world does; the dancers really dig it… like actors who continue to grow and explore their characters. Think about it—if you’re working out very hard three nights a week over the course of three weeks, your body will change. By the end of the run, these dancers will be in the best shape they’ve been in for a while.”
And transformation is the theme of the performance—growth via decay, aided by Carl Wiedemann’s videography and music from Puscifer, Einsturzende Neubauten and, of course, DEVO (the pun on the title is fully intentional). The humor of the show is a testament to Judy’s own artistic transformation, but not at the loss of her political ideals. When I ask about her relationship to her past as a twelve year-old runaway raised in the New York punk scene she says, “I still have a Mohawk, I still go to shows. I don’t feel 38. I hope when I’m 60 I’ll still feel 30. And I’m still angry; but I’ve found a creative way to work through it.”
“De-evolution of Mudwoman” runs through September 6 at the Viaduct Theatre, 3111 N. Western, (773)296-6024. $18.