What If I Told You review at Army at Summerhall – ‘vibrant and sensitive’
Choreographer Pauline Mayers’ one-woman show What If I Told You is eloquent on ideas of difference. Part confessional monologue, memoir and workshop, it generously invites an audience to become part of proceedings, sharing the same space as Mayers. Sometimes we’re participants, trying out moves or building up stage pictures; at other times stationary observers, following Mayers’ re-enactments of moments in her life where prejudices surrounding gender, racial and even dancerly difference have arisen.
There’s the teacher at the Rambert Ballet School, where Mayers trained, who snootily intones that she’s “never taught a black body before.” Or the doctor in the hospital where Mayers was treated for an Achilles tendon injury who summarised her to his students as “a PE teacher whose body is trying to tell her something.” Recordings from Black Lives Matter demonstrations flood the space, along with snatches of David Starkey’s racist opining.
Mayers intersects personal experience of inhabiting a black female body in a white-dominated world with recurrent and shocking sections on 19th century gynaecologist J. Marion Sims’s experiments on enslaved black women, conducted without anaesthetic. When Mayers silently embodies Anarcha, who endured 30 procedures, it’s a subdued yet powerful moment in a vibrant and sensitive work.