Dressed in a sheer two-piece leotard, Zornitsa Stoyanova wiggled her toes along the scratched wooden floor before her practice performance for a small audience in North Philadelphia’s Fidget Space. She stuffed scrunched Mylar into her leotard, letting the polyester and plastic fabric protrude to represent childbirth and the “baggage” women carry.
Stoyanova, an artist in residence at Fidget, a space directed by Megan Bridge and Peter Price, will perform an interactive dance performance of “Explicit Female” on April 29 and 30. The performance peers into the female identity and body through her own personal narratives.
Stoyanova, originally from Bulgaria, attended Bennington College in Vermont for dance and sound design. She finished in 2006 and moved to Philadelphia for its cheap rent and art community.
The 34-year-old mother started dancing when she was 15, which she says is “ancient” for those who go on to pursue the art as a career.
“The way dance was introduced to me through improvisation and self-exploration was such a spiritual bombardment,” Stoyanova said. “It was truly a special place that I could go to and still be theatrical, but it was also an embodiment I lacked with any other form.”
Early on in her dance education, Stoyanova said she knew she would never be just a dancer. She also found a strong interest to “make” through mediums of photography and film.
Bridge and Price invited Stoyanova to become their artist in residence in October 2015. Immediately after receiving the invitation, Stoyanova went to Poland for a three-week residency, where her experience consisted mostly of attending performances.
After returning from Europe, Stoyanova began working with Mylar, a shiny polyester film with reflecting properties, and created 20 short movies. But the Bulgaria native knew she needed to perform, and looked back on her film and photography to find inspiration.
“When I saw the Mylar mirrored, it created this feminine image,” Stoyanova said. “It was abstract feminism.”
Stoyanova began to think about what was important to her in that time of her life: motherhood and female identity.
“Those kind of pieces all of a sudden gelled and I started realizing I was making a performance about myself, which I have never done,” she said. “Giving myself permission to use those stories and use my life started unraveling into ‘Explicit Female,’ unapologetically.”
“Nobody talks about the realness of what is happening in the body,” added Stoyanova, who also said that motherhood is beautiful. “This baby is mine, but it is totally foreign to this world and I am foreign to this world too because I was just torn open and sewn back up. I am supposed to feel great about it, but I don’t.”
The mother of a 2-year-old boy was inspired by this idea after realizing her “privilege” of having a husband that is supportive of her work emotionally and financially. For the artist, motherhood, female identity and the physical body are deeply intertwined.
“The female body gives you a lot of different meanings, and a lot of them are tied to very comfortable sexiness that we see in advertisements, a female in underwear,” Stoyanova said. “I want you to see me with all of my perfections and imperfections and what my body really looks like when it is shaking.”
Amy Frear, a 2008 theater alumna is working with Stoyanova to turn “Explicit Female” into a film. As a close friend of Stoyanova’s, she said she is excited to see the project come to fruition.
“I know a lot of this came out of her life being a mother,” Frear said. “The first time I saw her perform was when she was pregnant, so it kind of came full circle with the theme she is exploring.”
Through funds raised via a Kickstarter and her $15 performance, Stoyanova hopes to create Moms Make Art, a residency that provides 40-hour rehearsals and a child-care subsidy.
Megan Bridge, co-founder of Fidget Space and adjunct dance professor at Temple, said Stoyanova’s style fits well in the work that Fidget aims to present.
“Zornitsa’s work is a great example of the experimental work that we want to present at Fidget,” Bridge said. “She is very rounded in dance, but she is also bringing so much with conceptual and theatrical elements. It is a fully realized production.”
Although Stoyanova said she has no goal-oriented outcome, she is excited for the audience to perceive the female form that does not revolve around motherhood or the “sexy female.”
“I feel like the whole performance is always slightly left of an archetype,” Stoyanova said. “I would love to have conversations about it—what is it to be a female? What are all the issues we are dealing with in equality and opportunity?”
Emily Scott can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.