It’s difficult to know where to start when talking about Silvia Calderoni’s solo show, MDLSX. The performance is part rock/punk DJ set, part monologue, part dance/physical theatre, part family home movie show, part autobiography, and part fiction.
Calderoni has been performing with the acclaimed and sometimes controversial Italian theatre group Motus for many years, giving her own androgynous takes on Ariel in The Tempest and the title role in Antigone. With her seductive and defiant swagger, sharp features, thin frame and wild mane of bright blonde hair, she’s been compared to Iggy Pop, and certainly has a similarly mysterious and intriguing presence.
MDLSX merges parts of Calderoni’s own life, sitting in a fluid space between male and female, with Jeffrey Eugenides 2002 Pulitzer prize-winning novel Middlesex, about an intersex person raised as a girl.
It’s clearly a very personal show, and questions about what we choose to share with the world and what we keep private hang over every moment. It’s never didactic, but it becomes clear just how oppressive a binary notion of gender is for many people.
On a small circular screen at the back of the stage, we get a window into Calderoni’s own evolution via home movies, as she embraces her own gender identity and throws off many of the more restrictive boundaries of gender. On that screen, we also see Calderoni’s face in close-up, as she delivers revealing monologues into a small camera, with her back to the audience. (The monologues are spoken in Italian with English subtitles.)
At some point, Calderoni’s narrative becomes secondary to her telling of key excerpts from Middlesex, which unfolds in parallel to Calderoni’s home movies. The melding of various narratives, and some queer theory, is an ingenious piece of dramaturgy.
And the physical elements of the performance are just as striking — in one scene Calderoni stuffs wigs under her arms and into her underwear as dances around the stage, in another, she performs a rather provocative dance with the help of a laser light and a can of hairspray, signifying (to my mind) how she fits around the social in dissecting gender.
All of this is set to an evocative soundtrack of classic and contemporary rock, including tracks by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Vampire Weekend, REM and the Smiths, cued up by Calderoni on a computer and small mixing desk at the back of the stage.
The music is brilliant, but the soundtrack doesn’t quite shake the rafters the way you’d hope it might given the show’s unapologetic and joyful spirit. It just feels like it should rock a little bit harder.
But that’s the only complaint for this rare, fascinating, deeply intelligent and surprisingly moving piece. There are only two performances left in Sydney, but you should do whatever you can to grab a ticket.