Julie Tolentino, who makes her debut at the Kitchen Thursday in The Bottom Project, says it takes a bottom to know how to get on top. The Filipina-El Salvadoran lesbian performance artist likens the piece to “a collection of pictures similar to what happens when you start meditating.” Her intent is to bump through the chaos, to hit bottom and bounce back.
Fueling Tolentino’s exploration of the many meanings of bottom (bottom of the barrel, bottoms up, bottom line, bottom versus top) is endurance, usually through repetition, and the challenge to enter “the place that allows for the big moment of change, realization, a new start.” Her version of endurance includes a 10-minute rice shower that pummels her head and a “princess-and-the-pea bed” that lazily deflates while Tolentino is bound in elastic bands and tossed around.
Working with 13 local performers (much like David Roussève, in whose company she memorably starred ), Tolentino utilizes music by F100 (violinist Julie Fowells and electronic musician Bernard Elsmere), lighting by David Ferri, and a visual design by Jet Clark. Her presence in the piece, she says, “evokes the bottom persona —wanting, pushing, fighting, giving up, trying, not quite satisfied.” A gay female artist born into a minority community, “surrounded by various addictions and disparities,” Tolentino says she is quite familiar with subjugation. The paradox presented in The Bottom Project is that life at the bottom has given her “the strength to be who I am . . . without apology.”