Is an art, like everything else.
I do it exceptionally well.

Sylvia Plath

Still from Lazarus, concept and performance Tuixen Benet

A room with a wardrobe. The wardrobe’s door slides to the right, revealing the body of a woman sprawling on the floor in a gesture of falling and in a state of apparent lifelessness. After a few seconds, the woman lifts her head, looks around, and with one hand positions the other in a new place. She remains motionless. After a few more seconds, she gently places a strand of hair over her white face. It’s funny and unexpected. It’s important!

Lazarus by Tuixen Benet is a humorous, original, provocative, feminist dance film about death. Or more precisely, about the death of a (the) woman. It bears the name of Lazarus of Bethany, resurrected by Christ four days after his death, a direct or indirect image-inspiration of various works and phenomena in human history: from the poem Lady Lazarus by Sylvia Plath, through David Bowie’s last song with the same name, to the Syndrome of Lazarus, in which a person spontaneously restores a normal heart rhythm after failed resuscitation attempts. In Tuixen Benet’s film, Lazarus is a woman, dying and resurrecting, to aestheticize and romanticize her death; to smooth out the notion of dying, to make it graceful; to beautify her appearance in death, because according to Edgar Allan Poe “the death of a beautiful woman is, without a doubt, is the most poetical topic in the world.” According to director Tuixen Benet, the film and its heroine fail in their pursuit of the poetic, but the intention is precisely this, because they triumph in their artistic surprises, irony, and significant social commentary .

The screendance project Lazarus begins as an improvisation of choreographing gestures of falling and dying and mimicking movements from westerns. It is shot with a small team, on a two-day trip across the US, on a budget of $300. For nearly nine minutes it makes you laugh, it excites you, and manages to intrigue you with questions about the representation of women in art. The Edgar Allan Poe quote actually becomes part of the film in the editing process and it is the clever fusion of filmed material with a pre-existing quote, statement, and problem that is a mark of successful experimentation in the field of cinema, in particular dance for screen.

Tuixen Benet is an artist living and working in Barcelona and Los Angeles. She has honors and awards from international film festivals. She is the choreographer of numerous music videos, and dances in feature films and commercials. She often collaborates with other dance artists and directors from production companies scattered all over the world. She co-founded the Barcelona dance company Les filles Föllen. For the reader of this text, these details probably have no sufficient content and density, because they are geographically distant or unfamiliar as a professional experience. But this listing is also a part of the biography of a young woman who is creating here and now and has earned her place in the diversity of contemporary art with imagination and effort. This brings me back to the beginning of the article and my first paragraph ending with “It’s important!”.

We all live in a time full of conflicts and contradictions. Some of them are completely new, while others go back decades or centuries. Feminism is a giant topic, though actually a rather new one, considering human history. The ideas about equality found ground in the 15th century, but the so-called ‘first wave of feminism’ appeared after four more centuries. Feminism will continue to exist, because its counterpoint -sexism in human societies- is ineradicable. Of course, it can be and is interpreted, understood, and transformed, but this is a slow and long process as it is firmly embedded in the language, memory, and history of humanity. It is also part of educational systems, institutional policies, religious practices, and cultural traditions, including newly emerging ones. The same sexism, to varying degrees and depending on the local context, is inevitably present in the world of art.

On one side of art, proudly stand the artists, on the other – their works, and on the third – the audience. The three are constantly interconnected and influenced by each other. Relying on the accuracy of numbers, which are both quantitative and qualitative indicators, we can measure a slow growth in the presence of women in all three groups: as consumers of art; as creators of art; represented in art works in ever more increasingly nuanced and complex ways.

In 1971 […] the researcher […] Linda Nochlin wrote her manifesto text that poses one of the most emblematic questions in the history of art and its place in the struggle for gender equality – “Why have there been no great women artists?’’

Data [2019] provided by the National Gallery of Art shows that in the permanent representative exhibition are included 1,068 works of art. 47 female artists are present with 82 art works, and there are 433 male artists with 986 works. This means that 91% of the permanent exhibition of our National Gallery is created by male artists.

“Do women have to be naked to be part of the Metropolitan Museum? Less than 5% of the artists in the modern art section are women, but 85% of the nude bodies are female.” [1989]

Several passages from a text by Dobromira Terpesheva, published on the Bulgarian Fund for Women’s website, serve as a reminder of the path that feminism has taken and is still paving. In order to reach more people, the information flow on the topic should be such: to find a balance between comprehensibility, accessibility, factuality, and emotional charge; to stay away from sensationalism, because this makes it transitory and erases the educational value of its content. Of course, feminism is also criticized, because, like any major political, social and cultural movement, it is also subject to radicalization and exploitation, as well as the superficial propagation of shallow ideas. To reach people living in the here and now, any equality movement needs channels for distribution, critical thinking, and questioning – all this through sober analytical texts and through bold creative experiments.

Here we can turn back to Tuixen Benet, Lazarus, and the theme of the representation of women in art, as well as the role of the woman artist. This art project successfully combines the points of reflection, as it focuses on the idea of the objectification of the woman, especially at the time of the tragedy of her death.

Still from Lazarus, concept and performance Tuixen Benet 

Tuixen Benet works with choreography and its capturing against, or in interaction, with specific natural landscapes. This is also the case in Lazarus. The heroine performs a variety of movements among canyons and clouds, and also in a domestic environment. The film carries a spirit of spontaneity and a sense of free experimentation with the framing of the shots and the movement of the female body. Humor and melancholy, poetry and clumsiness, seriousness and absurdism intertwine.

Through an opportunity to be aware, to sympathize, and empathize with the gestures, the dance film is able to reach out to its viewers and provoke them with questions. What does ‘poetic’ mean? What is death? Why would Edgar Allan Poe write words that can be interpreted as extremely romantic or extremely dangerous to the understanding of women’s place in art, and perhaps in life? How could the end of human life be admired? What is a woman beyond her beauty? What is her role in modern society?

This film, being conceptualized and directed by a woman, with a fictional female protagonist and a female cinematographer, focuses on significant issues of female representation and manages to be affecting and memorable. It successfully addresses the need for female agents who become part of the systematic efforts of women around the world to fight for equality in art and the potential for self-expression through creativity and cultural production.  

At the moment, the full dance film Lazarus is not available online and possibly that makes this article difficult to read. But maybe someday everyone will be able to enjoy it. Until then, you can follow Tuixen Benet online on her Instagram account and Vimeo channel for future screenings of Lazarus, as well as for more colorful creative pursuits. It is important to consume art, read about it, debate it and create it. It is important that it includes women, women creators, women storytellers, women with liberated ideas and distinctive voices.

The article is translated by Miryana Mezeklieva.

Ana-Maria Sotirova graduated with a degree in “Film” at the University of Reading, as well as a master’s degree in “Film Studies” at the University of Amsterdam. She is the author of articles in the “Translation on Air” column, part of the activities of the “Moving Body” platform.

Miryana Mezeklieva graduated in Cultural Studies at Sofia University Kliment Ohridski. Since 2008 until today she has been working as a translator of feature films and series for dubbing mainly for the channels of Nova Broadcasting Group.

This material was created within the project Translation on Air – a section dedicated to dance for the screen or screen dance. Every month we invite professional and amateur audiences, tempted by this intriguing symbiosis between cinema and dance, to join our readings, conversations, and discussions with active choreographers in the field from the country and abroad.

 The project “Translation on Air” is implemented with the financial support of the National Fund “Culture” under the program “Audiences” 2020 and “One-Year Grant” 2021.

Videography and bibliography:

Short film “Lazarus”

Interview with Tuixen Benet, part of International Dance Festival: Los Angeles, 2021.

Terpesheva, Dobromira, 2019. Where are women in the whole picture of art?, Bulgarian Fund for Women.

Disposable Woman, TV tropes.

Disposable Sex Worker, TV tropes.