Performances You Should See: American Realness

I’m spending the next month and a half locked in the library, studying for an upcoming exam, and won’t be getting to see nearly as much dance  as I would like. However, there are an overwhelming amount of opportunities to see interesting dance in the city right now, thanks to the presenters’ festival APAP and other concurrent festivals, so I’m going to offer some brief suggestions on what YOU might want to see.

Among them, the American Realness Festival (which started yesterday and runs through Jan. 20) offers a chance to see a number of fantastic contemporary dance and performances which you may have missed the first time around. As an added bonus, the majority of the performances are held at the charmingly historical Abrons Art Center (what can I say, I’m a sucker for shutters!)

Turbulence (a dance about the economy)Photo Credit: Ian Douglas

Turbulence (a dance about the economy)
Photo Credit: Ian Douglas

Below are some of the offerings that I had a chance too see last year, and would highly recommend checking out in the coming days (full schedule here). Click on the performance titles for what I thought about the pieces the first time around:

Keith Hennessy, Turbulence (a dance about the economy) (dates/info here)

Turbulence (a dance about the economy) blew my mind when I saw it in October. Drawing inspiration from Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine, Judith Jack Halberstam’s The Queer Art of Failure, and a myriad of other unlikely dance sources, Turbulence reinserts bodies into our discourse about the economy, while simultaneously investigating its own economies. It was a wild ride, but an inviting one. I’m sure your experience of Turbulence will be entirely different from the one I had, and that’s exactly why you should go.

Faye Driscoll, You’re Me (dates/info here)

Another must-see. One of my favorite performances of 2012, and one I wish I could see again. Driscoll seems to hit on something manifestly contemporary with this messy blend of awkwardness and exuberance.

Maria Hassabi’s SHOW (dates/info here)

I saw this as part of the River to River Festival downtown this summer. The performance then “was truly part of the life of the street,” and I’d be interested to see how this translates into an indoor space.

Trajal Harrell, Judson Church is Ringing in Harlem (Made-to-Measure)/Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at the Judson Church (M2M) (dates/info here)

This is the final offering in choreographer Harrell’s Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at the Judson Church project, which asks the question “What would have happened in 1963 if someone from the voguing ball scene in Harlem had come downtown to perform alongside the early postmoderns at Judson Church?” While the first half of the piece is tedious (and intentionally so), the sometimes ecstatic second half leaves us with a number of unanswered questions and possibilities, as Harrell masterfully imagines new ways of thinking about and following up on these two lineages.

Also on offer is another work in the series, in the (L) “size,” in which Harrell presents an “all-male version of Sophocles’s Greek tragic drama Antigone.

So, go! See some dance! I’m jealous already!

Naturally Awkward Relation: Faye Driscoll’s “You’re Me” at The Kitchen

As the audience entered Faye Driscoll‘s “You’re Me,” at The Kitchen on Thursday night, we were greeted by Driscoll and Jesse Zaritt standing atop stools, covered in a hodgepodge of multicolored materials and objects, including an assortment of fruit. Driscoll looked vaguely uncomfortable, while Zaritt stared out at us with a blankly serious expression. Ever so slowly, they began to let things fall to the floor. This static mood finally broke when the pair looked at each other, frantically ripped off their layers until they were both in pants and t-shirts, and descended from their stools.

The discomfort that Driscoll displayed as we entered the space would recur throughout the piece. Her wonderfully expressive face reveled in being awkward (an affect that seems particularly contemporary). These expressions went beyond simply reminding us that this was a performance (look, I’m trying to smile!), or of highlighting the unnaturalness of mugging to an audience while dancing (although this was there too). Veering between discomfort, put-on cutesiness, and mock seriousness, her faces were continually in progress, giving the impression of being not quite there yet, or of being tried on for size. They undermined and complicated the dancerly shapes and poses that frequently punctuated phrases of movement.

The relationship between the two performers was one of the most touching and realistic I have ever seen in a dance performance. It was a dynamic of mutual respect, even when it veered into annoyance, surprise, boredom, or aggressive tension. Their glances often seemed to say “Are you ready?” in a way that suggested more than a desire for a shared sense of timing. This was a duet in the truest sense of the word. The dynamic between them was at times sexual, angry, exploratory, playful, and combative, but was continually surprising in how true it felt. Despite the clearly skillful dancing, the bizarre assortment of costumes and props, and the intermittent score, at the core of it, I was struck by how well they captured the way people in a relationship (romantic or otherwise) interact: what give-and-take, trying on roles, and attempting to exist in relation to another looks and feels like.

In one memorable scene, Zaritt approached and hugged Driscoll. She proceeded to give him notes on this performance of affection in tones inaudible to the audience. Her incredibly natural manner evoked at once a choreographer giving notes to a dancer and a lover making a request of her partner. Zaritt tried again, slightly tweaking his approach and delivery each time, until finally, appearing to be satisfied, Driscoll gazes out over his shoulder at us, with that uncomfortable, gleefully guilty smile.

In the second half of the piece, the pair began to set out in a circle a variety of arts and crafts-type supplies, from oranges, to spray paint, to balls of string, and pulled down the nondescript white cardboard sheet that had been hanging at the back of the space. Standing upon their newly floored canvas, Driscoll and Zaritt helped each other try on objects—lipstick, glasses, a bra, oranges down their pants—repeating a similar dance phrase, showing us how these accoutrements did or did not alter the performance. As they moved onto the messier elements available, including paint, powder, and spray paint, they applied them with sexualized moans, tiptoeing back and forth over the line of irony.

Driscoll and Zaritt were absolutely captivating performers, their commitment to the piece’s escalating intensity evident in their increasingly sweaty hair, faces, and clothing. In the final scene, Driscoll stood atop the two stools, while Zaritt pulled out a seemingly endless assortment of props that evoked a preschool dress-up chest: scarves, beads, wigs, hats… Driscoll tried on and discarded these items in an increasingly frenzied ecstasy, until she finally began to lose momentum. She stood before us, clearly exhausted, her ambiguous expression now laced with expectancy. Zaritt, who had faded to the back of the space, began clapping.