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Kathryn Alexandre and the Performance of the Body

by Ethan Tussey

by Zoe Shacklock for IN MEDIA RES

In BBC America’s behind the scenes video, Kathryn Alexandre describes herself as ‘Tatiana’s clone double’. The redundancy of this somewhat awkward tautology suggests that we lack the terminology to properly account for Alexandre’s contribution to Orphan Black. The critical praise lauded upon the series highlights Tatiana Maslany’s extraordinary performance(s). Yet her work is intertwined with that of Alexandre, who provides a performance for Maslany to ‘play off’ in scenes involving two clones. The concept of ‘playing off’ fellow actors, while a relatively common phrase in the critical lexicon, grounds television performance within the ricochets of three-dimensional space, and offers a way to reassess the relational dynamics of the Alexandre-Maslany team.

Both television theory and popular criticism of performance tend to privilege the face, largely ignoring the spatial dynamics of the body. Alexandre’s face is replaced in post-production, thus rendering her work somewhat invisible to the critical eye. Yet this performance is not effaced entirely; rather, the traces of her physical interaction with Maslany retain a ghostly presence on screen. In the BBC America clip, one of the crew draws attention to the way Maslany aligns her body with Alexandre’s in the scene between Rachel and Sarah, mirroring her placement of eyes, nose, and shoulder. However, this symmetry is lost in the final version of the scene, as Maslany-as-Rachel’s face occupies a different position to that of Alexandre-as-Rachel. Alexandre’s body retains a trace presence within the sequence, visible through the misaligned orientation of Maslany’s two bodies.

As the use of computer generated imagery becomes more customary in screen media, the question of where to locate the truth of performance will only become more pressing. In this sense, our understanding and evaluation of performance could perhaps learn something from Darwinian theory, reconfiguring it as a relational question of fit with a surrounding environment. Much like the extra or the stand-in, the role the double plays is that of the body in space, seemingly possessing a replicative function that can easily be translated to the digital world. Yet in Maslany’s words, Alexandre ‘gives [my performance] back to me’. Rather than something an actor gives to a camera (and to the audience), the performance becomes a gift between actors, establishing a structure of care between bodies in space.

Orphan Black and the Body

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A clip from "Orphan Black"

from Orphan Black (2014)
Creator: BBC
Distributor: YouTube
Posted by Ethan Tussey