In Germany, an insult that is used to shame women for daring to have a career and children is ‘raven mother’. The three mothers of the show Raven, playing at Assembly Roxy until August 26th, dismantle the misogyny behind this insult, and tenderly reconstruct their world of broken dreams, the surreal exhaustion of long term sleep disruption, motherly adoration, and the dishonorable, frustrated tendency of mother judging mother in the absence of support networks. Using nothing more than a rope, a pile of laundry, their babies, and a projector, Anke Lena and Romy put on a banging, thought-provoking and emotional circus show.
Produced by Chamāleon Productions, the all-female collective Still Hungry of Berlin has created a spectacular show that gets all of the elements just right—love, strife and a dash of outrage. Anke van Engelshoven, in the midst of caring for her newborn child, enters a dream sequence where she reminisces about the days of smoking, going out until 3am, and dancing unfettered by any cares or responsibilities. In a powerful cinematic scene, she speaks of her longing for those days while donning a sequined outfit and a fringed up jacket before she climbs the rope and turns out a badass act to a powerful house music beat. Does the rope give her those moments of youth and freedom back?
Every conceivable fear a mother has which can spark up from lack of personal time arises in this show. Aging, body changes, loss of self. But the one thing the three women never do is dwell excessively on the label of raven mother, perhaps because giving it too much time is in some way validating it, or perhaps time is something they don’t have much of to give. Rather, they spend their limited time with us cleverly illustrating how society has stacked the deck against the success of mothers, offering little support and much criticism. When van Engelshovengets a call from her agent outlining a job opportunity, you can see her face go from hopeful to crumpled when the agent rattles off the impossible demands (on the road 200 days a year, weight limits, etc.) even describing in excruciating detail the tokenized roles she would be playing if she were lucky enough to land the job.
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Humor plays as big and as truthful a role as confession in Raven. Three mother’s line up on the couch and happily nurse their babies. But when one mother pulls out a bottle, or feeds her child non-organic food, eyes roll and bodies slide away in horror.
Grappling with the never-ending pile of laundry, Romy Seibt goes from wondering when she will ever have sex again or when she last showered, to wearily calculating the pieces of laundry she will fold over 20 years, to tossing and juggling about garments and pulling off a full act with a lesser known flow juggling implement called the puppyhammer. Swinging a crocheted garment with babyshoes attached on the bottom, watching it fly and catching it on the downswing, unravelling its strangling hold around her neck, and flowing towards its arc in the air, she snatches some rare moments of joyful play. Does that make her a raven mother or a human?
Lena Reis mulls over her elasticized skin ever since the birth of her children, and slumps down on to the couch in despair, wondering if her body is less flexible now, if she still has anything to offer the world, and her contortion unfolds from her fears like plot falls from a Dickens novel. Are her fears warranted? Is there a place for her in the circus world?
Ending on the welcome note of their children, they show a short video of the group dashing around the set and weighing in on their beloved mommas and what they do for a living. Never heavy or scolding, always demonstrating and inspiring, Raven says it all, diving deep in to the contradictions society holds towards women, towards motherhood and towards women in circus, it comes back to the surface with beautiful surprises.
Related content: Innovative Circus in Berlin with Chamāleon Productions
Photos courtesy of Chameleon Productions. Photo credit: Daniel Porsdorf; Performers: Anke van Engelshoven, Lena Ries, Romy Seibt