Space-Girl Dance is the fifth component in a body of video work generated for my PhD research project, The paradox of failure: sport, competition and contemporary art, in which I set out to restage a 50-year-old swimming race from the 1968 Mexico Olympics: the final of the women’s 400 metres individual medley.

In 1970, actress Raquel Welch starred in a video[1] in which she, a space-age Barbarella flanked by two silver-suited males, danced and gyrated in front of a collection of huge concrete modernist sculptures that had been commissioned for the 1968 Olympics.[2] Almost fifty years later, on a very hot day in Mexico City, I squeezed myself into a tight-fitting metallic silver bodysuit and, with Hardey driving, we went hunting for those very sculptures. I was on my way to restage Raquel Welch’s Space-Girl Dance in my older woman’s body.

It took us a while, but we finally spotted a cluster of the original sculptures, now completely overshadowed by tangled layers of motorways, on-ramps, off-ramps and roundabouts. We parked at a nearby shopping mall then dodged the traffic, clambering up and over fences, and traipsing over the rough ground, lava rocks and weeds. The sculptures were a sad sight – once the epitome of 1968 phallic modernism, they’re now symbols of anachronistic obsolescence with their dilapidated peeling paint and crumbling concrete. By contrast, in Raquel Welch’s original Space-Girl Dance (1970), the sculptures are pristine exemplars of 1960s modernism, symbols of the future, and odes to a time of unquestioned heroic masculinity. She, the 1960s sex symbol in her revealing space-age outfit, affirms this relationship as she moves, gyrates and dances in and around the sculptures. I was here to change that image.

One small hitch: I can’t dance. I had managed a quick half-hour lesson two days before we left New Zealand, a lesson in which I was irrefutably outdanced by a five-year-old. But nothing had quite prepared me for the mess I’d got myself into this time. This struck me with considerable force as I lurched across a crazy Mexico City highway in my silver suit. And it was really hot. By the time I hauled myself up to the solid blue mass of Willi Gutmann’s El Ancla, I was already turning a sweaty pink. On top of that, I knew that there was no way I was going to remember any of my hastily learnt dance steps. Skidding and stumbling over a thick bed of loose lava rocks, I had no choice: I had to wing it. About then, it belatedly occurred to me that I should have brought some music with me. So with Katri cringing behind the camera, and no music, I threw caution to the wind with a series of hapless dance routines in front of the now ageing and tatty sculptures.[3] Strutting my stuff in full view of the passing traffic, I discovered the power of a tight silver bodysuit – even one worn by an older woman. Mexican men kept tooting their car horns as they sped past, and I swear the gap between Raquel and me got a whole lot smaller. I could feel the stardom.

A distinctive flavour of parody is prefaced in Space-Girl Dance to the point of tipping my performance over into the ridiculously humorous – and certainly, in this work, I was interested in investigating the potential relevance and value of parody as a tool for aiding the production of incongruity within a contemporary restaging methodology. Film theorist Dan Harries states that parody has long been considered a “disrupter of conventions … [and] an excellent vehicle for critiquing aesthetic (and social) norms.”[4] Linda Hutcheon argues that “parody is … repetition with critical distance, which marks difference rather than similarity,”[5] thereby locating parody as a tool eminently suited for working with modes of repetition such as restaging. However, first, in order to frame parody within this research and how it applies to Space-Girl Dance, I draw upon Dan Harries’ definition of parody: “[T]he process of recontextualizing a target or source text through the transformation of its textual (and contextual) elements, thus creating a new text.”[6]

In Space-Girl Dance, the parody therefore lies in the process of recontextualising the differences between the dancers and the modernist sculptures. Raquel, the 60s sex symbol resplendent in her futuristic bikini, is replaced by a 60-year-old woman in a silver suit who can’t dance. And the monumental concrete sculptures have shifted from being powerful symbols of heroic masculinity to becoming dilapidated, tatty and ignored. In the original, flanked by two supporting male dancers, Raquel dances in and around the monumental phallocentric sculptures – a centrefold girl performing and reinforcing 60s masculine so-called norms and expectations. By contrast, the restaged Space-Girl Dance inverts the relationship: this time, the dancer is an irreverent older woman, the ‘other,’ flexing her ageing muscles in front of these equally ageing patriarchal relics, their status also now questionable in context. As such, the “resulting oscillation between similarity and difference”[7] creates a new, disruptive space of incongruity. Humour is generated in the restaged Space-Girl Dance as an outcome of using parody as a tool; and that the level of incongruity in turn, like a volume control, dictates the variant levels of humorous ridiculousness that oscillate throughout the work.

As such, Space-Girl Dance enabled me to test the edges of different kinds of humour, and to grapple with parody and the way in which it can be used creatively within a restaging methodology. When working with restaging and humour, parody is never far from the surface and through Space-Girl Dance I discovered that parody – if not carefully managed – has the potential to overpower other inflections in the restaged work. To paraphrase Rebecca Schneider, parody is a word that sometimes attends, like a difficult cousin, to restaging.[8] Parody is, however, a useful tool for generating difference and incongruity – which together highlight the otherness of the non-privileged ageing female body and that of the now-dilapidated, formerly heroic modernist sculptures commissioned for the 1968 Mexico Olympics.

  1. Raquel Welch performed Space-Girl Dance for her TV series Raquel!
  2. Twenty-two international artists, among them Herbert Bayer and Alexander Calder, were commissioned to create abstract sculptures for the 1968 Mexico Olympics as part of the Cultural Olympiad programme. An ambitious project, in all, nineteen monumental concrete sculptures were erected along La Ruta de la Amistad (The Route of Friendship), the road that connected the Olympic facilities. Over time, however, the route was smothered by urban growth; the sculptures were forgotten, neglected and vandalised as Mexico City grew around them. There is currently a restoration programme underway, spearheaded by the Patronato Ruta de la Amistad (the Route of Friendship Trust), to save and restore the dilapidated sculptures. For an overview of the story behind the project, see Raymundo Ángel Fernández Contreras, “Route of Friendship: A Testimony to Mexico City’s Aesthetic Modernity,” Voices of Mexico. Centro de Investigaciones sobre América del Norte, CISAN, issue 82 (May–August 2008): 33–43.
  3. In total, seven of the sculptures are featured in the restaged Space-Girl Dance video: El Ancla, Willi Gutmann (Switzerland); Reloj Solar, Grzegorz Kowalski (Poland); Muro Articulado, Herbert Bayer (Austria/USA); Señales, Ángela Gurría (Mexico); Las Tres Gracias, Miloslav Chlupac (Czech Republic); México, José Maria Subirachs (Spain); Hombre de Paz, Constantino Nivola (Italy).
  4. Dan Harries, Film Parody (London: British Film Institute, 2000), 6.
  5. Linda Hutcheon, A Theory of Parody: The Teachings of Twentieth-Century Art Forms (Urbana & Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2000), 6.
  6. Harries, Film Parody, 6.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Schneider was acknowledging the considerable debate in performance studies around the term ‘live’ in relation to re-enactment when she wrote: “‘Live’ and ‘liveness’ are words that sometimes attend, like difficult cousins, to reenactment.” Schneider, Rebecca. Performing Remains: Art and War in Times of Theatrical Reenactment (London & New York: Routledge, 2011), 90.
Performer: Sandy Gibbs
Camera: Katri Walker
Support crew: Hardy Martínez León, Chris Williams
Costume: Clare Weterings
Editor: Ro Tierney
Soundtrack from the original Space-Girl Dance (1970) featuring Raquel Welch
Shot on location in Mexico City