Did The Tenant unintentionally conflate transness and mental illness? Photo by Matthew Murphy, courtesy The Joyce Theater

What Message Did The Tenant Really Send About Gender Identity and Mental Illness?

Last week, Arthur Pita's much-anticipated The Tenant, featuring American Ballet Theatre principal James Whiteside, had its New York City premiere at The Joyce Theater.

Based on the novel by Roland Topor and the 1976 Roman Polanski film, The Tenant follows a man who moves into an apartment that's haunted by its previous occupant (Simone, played by ABT's Cassandra Trenary) who committed suicide. Throughout the show, the man—Trelkovsky, played by Whiteside—slowly transforms into Simone, eventually committing suicide himself.

But some found the show's depiction of a trans-femme character to be troubling. Whether the issues stem from the source material or the production's treatment of it, many thought the end result reinforced transphobic stereotypes about mental illness. We gathered some of the responses from the dance community:


One of our readers sent a Letter to the Editor:

Dear Dance Magazine,

I am writing to express my anger and disappointment at the transphobic and shockingly uneducated depiction of a trans femme character in Arthur Pita's The Tenant at The Joyce Theater this week.
In an era when information about how to appropriately and competently explore trans-related content abound, there is simply no excuse for this ignorant and harmful depiction.
The writing and performance of this role rely upon (and reinforce) harmful, outdated, and transphobic stereotypes.
While it's very disappointing that James Whiteside decided to proceed with this project, it is a reminder that being LG or B does not mean you understand or respect the T. As this case proves, being a cisgendered gay man does not automatically bestow any understanding of transgender issues.


Sincerely,
Ayden Halton
Brooklyn, NY

A review in Critical Dance called out The Tenant's troubling themes:

"However, the greater problem I have with The Tenant is the piece's manifestation of Trelkovsky's descent into madness. Either as a result of his ingrained mental illness, or of circumstances outside his control, he transforms himself into Choule – physically. He becomes a woman – and maybe had that propensity all along (though that's hardly clear). So is the message here that a man who dresses like a woman or "becomes" a woman does so as a result of mental illness (the program note described him as "pathologically" alienated) or of outside forces that compel him to do what he does? Does it matter? And is the further message that the transformation into a woman (including but beyond wearing woman's clothing) is the real horror story, or at the very least a component of it? Somehow I don't think that that's the takeaway that any of the artists involved in the piece intended to provide, but it's there." –Jerry Hochman

Did you see The Tenant? Let us know what you thought about its depiction of gender identity and mental illness in the comments.

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Courtesy Harlequin

What Does It Take to Make a Safe Outdoor Stage for Dance?

Warmer weather is just around the corner, and with it comes a light at the end of a hibernation tunnel for many dance organizations: a chance to perform again. While social distancing and mask-wearing remain essential to gathering safely, the great outdoors has become an often-preferred performance venue.

But, of course, nature likes to throw its curveballs. What does it take to successfully pull off an alfresco show?

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz in Dwight Rhodens "Ave Maria," part of PBT's Open Air Series last fall.

Kelly Perkovich, Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

Keeping dancers safe outside requires the same intentional flooring as you have in the studio—but it also needs to be hearty enough to withstand the weather. With so many factors to consider, two ballet companies consulted with Harlequin Floors to find the perfect floor for their unique circumstances.

Last fall, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre invested in a mobile stage that allowed the dancers to perform live for socially distanced audiences. "But we didn't have an outdoor resilient floor, so we quickly realized that if we had any rain, we were going to be in big trouble—it would have rotted," says artistic director Susan Jaffe.

The company purchased the lightweight, waterproof Harlequin's AeroDeck® sprung floor panels and the heavy-duty Harlequin Cascade™ vinyl, which is manufactured with BioCote® Antimicrobial Protection to help with the prevention of bacteria and mold. After an indoor test run while filming Nutcracker ("It felt exactly like our regular floor," says Jaffe), the company will debut the new setup this May in Pittsburgh's Schenley Park during a two-week series of performances shared with other local arts organizations.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's Open Air Series last fall. The company plans to roll out their new Harlequin AeroDeck® sprung floor panels and Harlequin Cascade™ vinyl floor for more outdoor performances this spring.

Harris Ferris, Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

In addition to the possibility of rain, a range of temperatures also has to be taken into account. When the State Ballet of Rhode Island received a grant from the state to upgrade its 15-year-old stage, executive director Ana Fox chose the Harlequin Cascade vinyl floor in the lighter gray color "so that it would be cooler if it's reflecting sunlight during daytime performances," she says.

However, for the civic ballet company's first performance on its new 24-by-48–foot stage on November 22, heat was less of a concern than the Northeastern cold. Fortunately, Fox says the surface never got icy or too stiff. "It felt warm to the feel," she says. "You could see the dancers didn't hesitate to run or step into arabesque." (The Harlequin Cascade floor is known for providing a good grip.)

"To have a safe floor for dancers not to worry about shin splints or something of that nature, that's everything," she says. "The dancers have to feel secure."

State Ballet of Rhode Island first rolled out their new Harlequin Cascade™ flooring for an outdoor performance last November.

Courtesy of Harlequin

Of course, the elements need to be considered even when dancers aren't actively performing. Although Harlequin's AeroDeck is waterproof, both PBT and SBRI have tarps to cover their stages to keep any water out. SBRI also does damp mopping before performances to get pollen off the surface. Additionally, the company is building a shed to safely store the floor long-term when it's not in use. "Of course, it's heavy, but laying down the floor and putting it away was not an issue at all," says Fox, adding that both were easy to accomplish with a crew of four people.

Since the Harlequin Cascade surface is versatile enough to support a wide range of dance styles—and even opera and theater sets—both PBT and SBRI are partnering with other local arts organizations to put their outdoor stages to use as much as possible. Because audiences are hungry for art right now.

"In September, I made our outdoor performance shorter so we wouldn't have to worry about intermission or bathrooms, but when it was over, they just sat there," says Jaffe, with a laugh. "People were so grateful and so happy to see us perform. We just got an overwhelming response of love and gratitude."

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz in Susan Jaffes "Carmina Terra," part of PBT's Open Air Series last fall.

Kelly Perkovich, courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

February 2021