In Cassils’ first ever dance piece, trans bodies made movement — and a striking canvas. From the very opening — “The first thing you notice is the shape of the eyes…” — a series of dancers in their mid-twenties stand on stage, each facing a blank canvas. Their arms hang limply at their sides, their gaze drifts from the painting of the white-haired, long-haired, pudgy artist they call Papa to the woman, who, in turn, stares intently at Papa’s head as he brushes by, his painted eyes locked on the dancers in the audience. In the middle: a woman whose fleshy face and long, wavy hair appear to be a composite of all the other women. She is the first to look, however, and her gaze is full of hope.
Though the choreographer, who is a veteran of both jazz and modern dance, began making his name in France as a choreographer, he is best known for his work in the U.S. His 2005 piece “Marilyn” — inspired by her 1964 role in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds — won the inaugural $25,000 Jerome Robbins Award, which honors artists and choreographers of color working in the world of contemporary dance.
Cassils’s subsequent work included “Eve” (2008), which the Public Theater presented in March 2012 in its inaugural season. With the work, he took on another set of iconic images — Marilyn Monroe, Eve, Marilyn — but this time, they seemed to be alive and breathing, with only their bodies remaining unchanged. Though, perhaps, the public was ready to accept a certain level of plasticity in the form of the human body.
“I think this is how Marilyn became the icon for both black and white people in the same way — at a very particular moment in time, during the 60s,” he explained during an interview at the Public Theater offices. “I think that she has