Did The Tenant unintentionally conflate transness and mental illness? Photo by Matthew Murphy, courtesy The Joyce Theater
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:
When Arthur Pita brought his Metamorphosis to the Joyce in 2013, The Royal Ballet's Edward Watson played the man who becomes a cockroach in Franz Kafka's famous story. He was slithery, spiky and sticky, and the creepiness factor loomed large. It was like the performers and audience were trapped in this brilliantly bizarre nightmare together.
Known as "the David Lynch of dance," Arthur Pita brings his new work, The Tenant, to The Joyce from November 6–11. Based on the surrealist novel by Roland Topor and the subsequent 1976 film, Pita's Tenant stars American Ballet Theatre's James Whiteside. Readers of Dance Magazine know from Whiteside's cover story that he is a maverick who will try anything. In The Tenant, a young man moves into an apartment where the previous renter, a woman, jumped out the window to her death. He becomes obsessed with her and starts to transform into her. The woman is played by ABT soloist Cassandra Trenary, and a third character, a kind of guardian, is played by Kibrea Carmichael.
The Metamorphosis was unforgettable when it came to the Joyce five years ago, so we have high hopes for The Tenant.