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.