Exploring a 'Fatale' attraction.
Siri Vik will explore themes of femininity, fear and desire in "Femme Fatale," her new one-woman song revue.
The show, presented with theater, movement, spoken word and a seven-piece ensemble, will run Friday through Sunday at The John G. Shedd for the Performing Arts.
With "Femme Fatale," Vik said, she wanted to peel back the layers of seduction and deceit that often define the classic femme fatale character trope.
To her, femme fatales such as film noir characters played by 1940s actress Veronica Lake embody something deeper than cautionary lessons for men against loving beautiful women and their trickery.
The femme fatale can symbolize a certain sense of empowerment, Vik said.
"She's often a character who is willing to go against society's rules," Vik said. "She's about fear, she's about other. There's this thing going on where usually the narrator is a man or the viewer is a man, and we don't really have access to her as a whole woman."
"Femme Fatale" is composed of three separate sets that span genres and time frames, from a take on the 17th-century novel "Don Quixote" by Miguel de Cervantes to the 2013 R&B song "That's Alright" by Laura Mvula.
Vik said each set of songs explores a different meditation on the concept of femme fatale.
In Set One, she channels various incarnations of femme fatales with songs such as "Falling in Love Again" by Marlene Dietrich and "Minnie the Moocher" by Cab Calloway and Irving Mills.
When she first started working on the show about a year ago, Vik did not initially feel a personal relation to the femme fatale concept. She immersed herself in film noirs like "Vertigo" and read gender film theory and feminist texts such as Naomi Wolf's "Beauty Myth" and Simone de Beauvoir's "The Second Sex."
"I read 'The Second Sex,' and I was just like," she began, eyes widening, "... OH."
As she moved further down the path of femme fatale discovery, she realized how she often embodies traits of the concept.
"I started to understand how I could relate to the femme fatale, and I started thinking about how I've behaved as a woman, not aware that sometimes my M.O. is to be something for someone else," she said. "I didn't realize how complicit I was in the dynamic, asking that question, 'What do I want?' I don't know, I just want to be wanted!"
Vik further examines this desire for attention from the male perspective in Set Two.
In this set, she plays a man in a suit and explores how men are complicit in creating the femme fatale, but also can experience a similarly unrealistic idolization from women.
"I would like this show to not be just about men and women; the story started long ago, and it's about any one person who desires another," Vik said. "I'm not attempting to impersonate a man at all, but the idea is to look at the desire and the fear of a femme fatale or a woman and the understandable pattern that everyone is caught up in. It's just humans."
She says that one song from the set, "It Ain't Me Babe" by Bob Dylan, flips the concept of the femme fatale on its head.
"The song 'It Ain't Me Babe' is basically saying, 'I'm not this knight in shining armor you expected'," she said. "That's sort of an expression of the way we women do this exact same thing."
In her third and final set, Vik attempts to address the question of whether a person, regardless of gender, can neither perpetuate nor embody the femme fatale.
Does she believe this is possible?
"I do, and I think hard experiences lead the way for me," she said. "I feel like this show has changed me. I sense a little distance from that urge to sort of put on this persona and mask."
One part of Set Three features Vik performing a spoken-word piece called "Marcela's Defense," which is taken from "Don Quixote." She speaks from the perspective of Marcela, a shepherdess whose fellow villagers want to punish after a man commits suicide over "unrequited love for her."
"To me what's interesting about it is she says," Vik explains, pulling out her script to quote Marcela directly:
" 'In order to live free, I chose the solitude of the fields. The trees of these mountains are my companions, the clear waters of these streams my mirrors.' "
Vik says this piece, along with songs in the set like "Bachelorette" by Bjork and "Fascinacao" by Elis Regina, explore solitude as a way to escape gender roles like the femme fatale.
Throughout the show, Vik will go through many outfit changes, for which she gained inspiration from Pinterest and glamorous 1930s movie costumes. She will not, however, evoke the traditional "face value" sexy image of the femme fatale.
Vik said it was very important to her that the themes and ideas expressed in the show not be obscured by the femme fatale look.
"If you Google 'femme fatale,' what you get is '10 Hottest Femme Fatales of All Time!' But the discussion stops in broader mass culture," she said.
Band leader Jesse Cloninger will accompany Vik on reeds, along with Natalie Fortin on piano, Jack Radsliff on guitar, Sean Flynn on viola, Dale Bradley on cello, Niels Miller on strong bass and Alistair Gardner on percussion.
Vik said this show is one of her most ambitious yet, but she has a gut feeling of excitement because she knows she can pull it off.
"I think it happened almost by divine intervention that the songs lay out as they do, they juxtapose well," she said. "It's really like a sense of theater and genre bending."
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