Amy and Rosana Cade: Sister

In the words of Irving Berlin: ‘Sisters, sisters – there were never such devoted sisters’. Amy and Rosana Cade are sisters, born exactly 22 months apart in the mid 1980s. One (Amy) is tagged – or perhaps I should say self-identifies – as a sex-industry worker, the other (Rosana) as ‘a lesbian with a shaved head and hairy arm-pits.’ They are both feminists. I am not sure why one woman defines herself by her job, and the other by her sexuality – but that is what we are given as our starting point.

But which is which? We first meet them in their underwear, identical sets of sexy black bits of string just about covering their modesty. They have identical make-up, identical high-heels, and identical silky long-haired auburn wigs. One is onstage pole-dancing; the other is weaving provocatively through an audience sat in a red-light cabaret set-up, finding volunteers (of either/any sex) who’d like a lap dance. Two chairs are placed onstage, two volunteers brought up, and the instruction is given in chorus: hands here, no touching, just leave the stage when the music finishes. Cue bump and grind – a full striptease and then some. They start out identikit, but as the ‘dance’ progresses it’s pretty easy to tell who is who. Amy the seasoned pro has all the right moves; younger sister Rosana is slightly less at ease in her act, but has a mesmerising performance presence. Finally, the wigs and shoes come off, and both stand side-by-side, fully naked and proud of it. It’s a terrific opening.

What follows is an intriguing and well-realised autobiographical exploration of personal and sexual identity. A full arsenal of contemporary performance tactics is used: confessional monologue about choosing to become an escort, or discovering that you don’t really like sex with men; lists (of boyfriends and girlfriends slept with, of blow jobs given, of what can and can’t be chosen in life); physical performance action (simple, strong images of the two women standing, walking, lying naked); letter-readings of defences of lifestyle to a worried mother.

The central pole is used well throughout: both circle it slowly to the strains of that famous Irving Berlin song; at another point Rosana crawls in a circle around it with high-heeled shoes on both feet and her hands as Amy pole-dances in that oddly prim mock-balletic way so beloved of strippers. Projected on the rear wall of the stage are home video clips of the two as toddlers, cute as can be, hugging each other, blowing bubbles, dancing naked to camera without a care in the world – not much has changed there, then!

On the surface, they do indeed reveal everything ‘in an attempt to understand their own and each other’s sexual identities’ – although it is only during the ‘question time’ slot built into the show, which invites audience questions for just the length of one music track, that we get a hint of anything that probes a little deeper than the bare facts about sexual practices and preferences. The show claims to investigate how the ‘world they grew up in together has shaped them into who they are today’ but that seems to be the very thing missing from the piece. What we get are beautiful portraits (in many senses of that word) of Amy and Rosana Cade, but we learn little of what makes them tick on a deeper level, and little of what surrounds them in the wider world outside of their interweaved relationship, other than the most basic facts (there is a mother, there is a younger brother). Maybe it was the simple, stress-free and idyllic childhood gleaned from the video clips – but it feels as if the confessions we are party to are risqué in a kind of ‘naughty’ way, not really risky.

As for the ‘feminism’ claim: I’m very happy to hear young women using the ‘f’ word with pride, but it would have been great to have a little more evaluation of what that might mean for someone selling sex as a lifestyle choice. There is no dialogue, for example, with the notion that it is dead easy to get your kit off when you are a lithe twenty-something woman (much is made of Rosana’s shaved head and a little bit of blonde fluff under the arms, but Amy and Rosana are both very pretty young women by anyone’s definitions), and that this choice is tolerated by our ‘liberal’ culture. It would have been good to have had some acknowledgment that there is more to feminist discourse around the display of the female body (as pole-dancer; as performance artist – and ultimately, are these actually very different?) than whether you shave your legs or not.

What I do like, though, are the scenes of casual nudity – for example, when the two women, naked and under bright stage lights, take apart the pole with allen keys and pack it away whilst chatting about how it detaches and how it fits in the box. I’m reminded of The Two Wrongies and their usurping of the female body on display mode with their naked backstage banter. I enjoy the use of objects and clothing in the piece, the constant on-off play with the wigs and stockings and silk robes (reveal and conceal: now you see me, now you don’t), and the symbolism of the shoes, used in so many different ways. Although on that note, one audience member asks why we see Rosana in heels, but we don’t ever see Amy in Doc Martens…

Reflecting on that last point, I realise that Rosana’s stomp around the pole in DMs has quite a startling effect, not only because it is a strong and forceful visual and aural image, but also because it is just about the only moment that is about Rosana standing up and standing out as herself, not Rosana in response to big sister Amy and her world. I note that the show is called Sister, not Sisters. Although both are on display, and the show is credited to both women, this is ultimately Rosana the lesbian performance artist’s tribute to, and attempt to understand, Amy the pansexual stripper and sex-industry worker.

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Dorothy Max Prior

About Dorothy Max Prior

Dorothy Max Prior is the editor of Total Theatre Magazine, and is also a performer, writer, dramaturg and choreographer/director working in theatre, dance, installation and outdoor arts. Much of her work is sited in public spaces or in venues other than regular theatres. She also writes essays and stories, some of which are published and some of which languish in bottom drawers – and she teaches drama, dance and creative non-fiction writing.