If second-wave feminist performance artists had video technology in the 1970s, their work would likely have resembled the opening of She Wolves: Women in Sex, Death, and Rebirth. Written and performed by Raquel Almazan, this powerfully visual production consists of nine vignettes, each depicting a different fierce woman. In the opening sequence, The Ritual, Almazan appears as Wolf Woman, dressed in furs that don’t obscure her body. Her prerecorded voice reverberates over the sound system as she skulks around the stage, releasing unironic, intensely committed howls. At times she joins with the recorded voice in telling of woman-as-wolf mythology and relating a history of taming women to a history of taming wolves.
Wolf Woman carries with her a bag of women’s bones; presumably the subsequent vignettes depict the women to whom the bones belonged. The next scenes feature strong, intriguingly weird female characters, including Dainty Lady, dressed in roller-skates and a crinoline, coquettishly waving a small fan; The Reporter perched atop a TV screen broadcasting scenes of wolves; and The Virgin Stripper violently deflating a blow-up doll.
Too few of the vignettes, however, exhibit the raw, underlying animalism expected from the wolf metaphor. Instead, the consistently strong visual images provide the evening’s connective tissue, starting with the first sequence in which a video montage behind Wolf Woman depicts Almazan in a Victorian home (writing with a quill, rushing down stairs, staring out windows and into mirrors), looking trapped and desperate. It’s an interesting juxtaposition with the taut, ferocious wolf that she plays onstage.
Director/choreographer Dora Arreola, with the help of lighting effects by Oveta Clinton and costumes by Francesca Mirabella, has a sharp eye for clean visual images that pop out in the busy mixed-media piece. The video art, designed by Tatiana Sainz, never achieves the magnificence of these onstage images.
A virtuosic physical performer, Almazan's Buhtoh-inspired movement lends strength and specificity to each of the women she portrays, just as she modulates her accent, rhythm and pace of speech.
A performance that uses mixed media to address wide-ranging issues of femininity runs the risk of losing audiences in a vague, frenetic world, but the discipline with which Alvarez embodies each character grounds this bold piece.