This site has limited support for your browser. We recommend switching to Edge, Chrome, Safari, or Firefox.

Love Letters

The first thing that you see as you enter the space is the slumped body of performer/dancer Caroline Bowditch on a bright yellow table, looking in a mirror at herself, looking at the audience looking back at her. Such an act is a statement of intent: Edinburgh Fringe sell-out “Falling in Love with Frida” is both self-reflexive portrait and a homage to the great Mexican painter Frida Kahlo (1907-54).

Performance

Caroline Bowditch: “Falling in Love with Frida”

Place

Dundee Rep Theatre, Dundee, Scotland, October 31, 2015

Words

Lorna Irvine

Caroline Bowditch's “Falling in Love with Frida”. Photograph by Anthony Hopwood

subscribe to the latest in dance


“Uncommonly intelligent, substantial coverage.”

  • Weekly articles from the world of dance
  • Wide diversity of reviews, interviews, articles & more
  • Support for quality art journalism

Already a paid subscriber? Login

Kahlo's debilitating injuries resulting from a terrible bus crash at age eighteen are interwoven with Australian Bowditch's own personal experiences—she has brittle bone disorder—and as a disabled contemporary artist. Yet, this moving and wonderful piece is not about disability per se, but rather a multi-layered celebration: a lusty paean to womanhood in all of its colours, curves and shades.

“Falling in Love with Frida” artfully avoids the traps of cultural appropriation; a kitsch exercise in Mexican cliches, with a tourist-eye view of colourful melodrama it is not. (Recalling Salma Hayek and Julie Taymor's bio-pic 2002 Frida, which reduced Kahlo to a victim of patriarchy and her own exotic hotheadedness.) Her Kahlo is a survivor—real, fleshy, vulnerable yet strong. “I feel as if I know you . . .. You never wore underwear,” she says, “you liked to smoke unfiltered cigarettes which turned your teeth black. You hated pink nipples.”

Fusing voluptuous choreography with an open letter from Bowditch to Kahlo, Bowditch is accompanied by her gorgeous trio: Welly O'Brien, Marta Masiero, and Yvonne Strain providing British Sign Language, all dressed in Kahlo-esque flamboyant finery, before stripping down to petticoats.

O'Brien and Masiero first appear in tableaux vivants, preening like adolescent girls in the first bloom of sexual awakening, before flexing, spasming and crashing to the ground—a powerful evocation of Kahlo's horrific accident.

Bowditch, her face the picture of longing and mischief, archly regards her obsession with Kahlo as “the perfect unrequited love affair—she's dead!” before revealing her real reason for Kahlo as muse:

“She makes me want to be braver.”

The women act as different facets of Frida Kahlo's character: proud; flirtatious, deeply despairing, and in one poignant scene, restricted in movement by pretty pink ribbons. Arms and hands flutter, like a bird which can never take flight. Thwarted, yet undaunted, the women stick out lascivious tongues and strike balletic poses.

They are never still, ever restless until the moment when, backs cheekily turned to the audience, they slurp watermelons at the yellow table, cackling like a family in a brothel. Bowditch comes to the front of the audience, offering a man in the front row a taste. “I don't usually give it to men,” she quips with a grin.

Bathed in a warm Mediterranean glow (Emma Jones' lighting, complementing Katherina Radeva's cacti-filled set, provides the intimacy of a cabaret setting) Bowditch confesses her first lesbian experience, with a woman called Susan, happened later in life—her twenties. Kahlo had many lovers, male and female, and this unabashed appetite for sex is implicit, in the flash of underwear, a slightly raised eyebrow or the arch of a back—yet never sleazy or gratuitous.

As everyone (theatre staff included!) knock back a shot of neat tequila (what else?) in a toast to Frida Kahlo, this is one show which defies simple categorisation: a provocation, an exploration, and visceral love letter to the untamed, timeless appeal of women's bodies, minds and spirits. Caroline Bowditch has created a loving, profound, passionate and uncompromising slice of dance theatre which soars in unexpected places, challenges and tickles.

Cacti are spiky, but just look at the beautiful flowers that they produce.

Lorna Irvine


Based in Glasgow, Lorna was delightfully corrupted by the work of Michael Clark in her early teens, and has never looked back. Passionate about dance, music, and theatre she writes regularly for the List, Across the Arts and Exeunt. She also wrote on dance, drama and whatever particular obsession she had that week for the Shimmy, the Skinny and TLG and has contributed to Mslexia, TYCI and the Vile Blog.

comments

Featured

A Dancer's Story
REVIEWS | Faye Arthurs

A Dancer's Story

The Dance Theater of Harlem returned to City Center this week for the first time under the leadership of Robert Garland, a former company dancer, school director, and resident choreographer. This was the launch of an exciting new beginning, though the troupe was simultaneously celebrating its past.

Continue Reading
Musically Inclined
REVIEWS | Sophie Bress

Musically Inclined

Despite the fact that dance and music are often regarded as inextricably linked, it remains astonishing to experience the work of a choreographer who channels the score particularly well—or a group of dancers who embody it especially organically. Repertory Dance Theatre’s 58th season closer, “Gamut,” happened to have both.

Continue Reading
Dance Downtown
REVIEWS | Karen Hildebrand

Dance Downtown

One might easily mistake the prevailing mood as light-hearted, heading into intermission after two premieres by Brenda Way and Kimi Okada for ODC/Dance’s annual Dance Downtown season. Maybe this is just what we need to counter world events, you may think. But there is much more to consider beneath the high production values of this beautifully wrought program. Okada, for instance, folds a dark message into her cartoon inspired “Inkwell.” And KT Nelson’s “Dead Reckoning” from 2015 reminds us the outlook for climate change looms ever large.

Continue Reading
Good Subscription Agency