Evalyn Parry’s Spin Takes Us Back, Moves Us Forward
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‘Why Waste Life in Friction When It Could Be Momentum?’

How we are able to navigate our urban streets and public space is so very political.

This conventional wisdom was especially apparent today — le mars 22 — where Quebec saw 200,000+ students, union members, professors, politicians, parents, children and concerned citizens taking to the streets to demand a democratic dialogue around the issue of accessible education.

And after meandering through a sea of peaceful, spirited, hopeful red squares fastened with pride to all kinds of people engaging with this issue today, it was fitting to end up at Montreal’s most famous red room—La Sala Rossa—to take in Spin, a bike-opera by Evalyn Parry featuring percussionist Brad Hart.

One of Edgy’s headlining bills, this performance piece/history lesson/personal narrative hybrid involves an artistic analysis of the bicycle as a muse, music, a means of transportation and an agent of social change that connects liberty and mobility.

Spin uses the music of a physical bicycle—mounted and played with bow strokes, strumming spokes, percussion on the pedal, bells and bars—looped in a way that accentuates “two-wheeled words” and meandering plot lines. For her part, Parry rides fluidly through the many eras and characters, commanding the room with passages and guitar rifs that are both sweet and soulful, folk- and grunge-inspired.

The storyline sets off with an introduction to turn of the century suffragists who loved and lived for the ‘steed that need no feed.”

We hear of epic Women’s Temperance Union leader Francis Willard, who penned a how-to-ride guide at the tender age of 53 when she learned that “she who succeeds in gaining mastery of her bicycle takes mastery of her life.” Parry also plays globetrotting and self-promoting Annie Londonderry, a 23-year-old ad woman who left her husband with their three kids to be the first woman to ride around the world on two wheels.

By introducing rabble rousers partial to the more radical aspects of their bicycle, Parry cycles us back to when transportation and emancipation were directly linked. She also manages to historically situate a Industrial era context where standard mass production and « progress » increasingly gave women more freedom of [consumer] choice and [purchasing] power.

How much of a historical hangover you see today is up to you.

Spin reminds us that the whip transformed an understanding of life and social order more deeply than many could conceive at the time, with women literally jumping on the chance to devour physical space and forward motion, refusing the social conventions and attitudes of the era:

By “going out on a limb,” foregoing the petticoat and showing off their physical and political legs, for example, women challenged aesthetic conventions of what they ‘should’ wear and do at the time and in public. Pants happened.

Doctors of the day also warned that enjoying the so-called sterility machine too much might ‘ride the fertility right out of your uterus’—because god forbid you have an orgasm. This particular scare tactic, not surprisingly, didn’t work either.

But curiously, one old adage from the old-school lady rulebook is something we continue to hear 100 years later; a warning meant for those in total control of their own ride:

Freedom to move is dangerous because you are literally taking your life into your own hands …as if that were a bad thing.

At this particular philosophical part of the production, however, the story breaks, moving its way into a personal narrative that involves the notorious Toronto-based bicycle klepto Igor Kenk, a theft, an accident and a breakup.

“If you have ever loved a bicycle, you know the heartbreak of having it stolen,” Parry sings of her missing steed, her memories, her mobility. “It was not just a bike. It was my history,”

But besides this personal passage, the brilliance of Spin really is that the lessons here are applicable to many things currently in motion. Emancipation, occupation, the politicizing of space and mobilizing on your own terms (in your own time) are things about the bicycle that are still essential today.

Perhaps contemporary similarities are part of the many political patterns that are cyclical, Parry hints as the wheels turn.

It is the past that drives us forward, after all.

– – – Watch Evalyn Parry’s SPIN Trailer on YouTube

Some considerations / questions:

1) Ever had a bike stolen? Were you heartbroken? How true is it for you that your whip is your history? Tell me a story.

2) What continue to be the biggest challenges facing urban cyclists?

3) How « feminist » is cycling today?

– – –

Thanks for reading! I’ll be back with another blog post tomorrow on JE BAISE LES YEUX! A sexy, political strip tease. MARCH 23, 20h, La Sala Rossa (4848 St. Laurent)

Une réponse pour “Evalyn Parry’s Spin Takes Us Back, Moves Us Forward”

  1. « How much of a historical hangover you see today is up to you. »

    You said it! When Evalyn mentioned that 80% of goods purchased today are bought by women, a number of us gasped in… what? shame? indignation? incredulity? Of course, we rationalized later, we’re talking groceries and the children’s clothes, not yachts and sports cars and nuclear missile launchers. Surely this stat is linked to individual purchases and not actual dollars spent. How could this be a surprise? As women we are constantly bombarded by sales pitches from manufacturers and pedlars of clothing, beauty products, cleaning supplies, vacuum cleaners, hair removal contraptions, you name it. It’s so hard to resist that we have convinced ourselves that we love it. How many of us buy into the concept of « retail therapy »? Too many.

    I was at the Bay in downtown Toronto last week. I went in looking for Spanx (I know, I know, hardly the emancipated woman’s purchase). I thought I’d take a look at the shoe department. It was a madhouse. A spring sale had a good 50 or so women in a mad tizzy. For a size 9, the racks were picked over beyond redemption, but even looking at the sections for the coveted size 6s, I was unimpressed. A calvacade of poorly made, uncomfortable looking pumps & weird hybrid boot-shoes. The cheapest shoe I saw was $49, hardly grounds for a consumer stampede. But spying the long lineup at the cash, it was obvious I was the only female immune to the charms of this fugly footwear fiesta. Some of these chicks were holding 3 and 4 boxes of shoes. I couldn’t help but roll my eyes. Seriously, ladies?

    I’m not saying that new shoes aren’t awesome. They truly are. Especially when they hit the trifecta of stylish/comfortable/on-sale. But to see these women, boxes of shoes under both arms, credit card at the ready, I just felt sad. And I daresay I also felt their future sadness. Soon the sugar-high of retail therapy would wear off and they’d burdened with bills and blisters.

    Why do we let ourselves be victimized by our consumerism? Why don’t we exercise this buying ‘power’ for good? We need to sexify conscious consumerism. Rather than be proud of the awesome deal we got on cheap t-shirts at Joe Fresh (manufactured in Cambodia) why not be proud of spending more to get a locally made version?

    This spring I encourage you to pare down. Get rid of all the things that aren’t quite perfect, the things that act as some fake motivator to lose weight/get toned/have a lobotomy. Bring it to the chaînon, or better yet, organize a clothing swap. New doesn’t have to be brand new/fresh of the boat/still sealed in plastic. New can be new-to-you. Less IS more

    And, yes, ride a bike.

    BTW, the shame-show in the shoe department motivated me to forego the spanx and let my winter weight hang proudly. Sexy!

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