MR Festival 2008: Populous by AUNTS by Jenn Joy

by Jenn Joy
MR Festival Spring 2008: Somewhere Out There

Sunday, 1 June 2008, 8pm

A pink streamer floats down onto Thames Street as we leave Officeops. An elegant floating trace of the transient encounters with dance witnessed along the horizon lines of Manhattan and Brooklyn. The transposition of bodies against distant skyscrapers and closer warehouses shifts my perspective of the bodies, at times making them seem tiny against the cityscape and at other moments presenting them as looming silhouettes against the sky. Produced by AUNTS, the simultaneous performances propose a difficult participation, “reception in a state of distraction” as Walter Benjamin might describe it. So each work must necessarily converse with the others directly or by proximity and will be witnessed only in fragments as a series of disjointed stills (by the wandering majority) of the audience.

While audience and performers are invited to cross the dotted but remain within or outside of the solid lines, it felt these boundaries remained mostly rigid with only momentary intervention by Felicia Ballos and Sarah White walking into Experiment #1 or the multitude of Experiment #1 dancers walking into the shared zone. These interruptions, whether accidental or timed with intention, worked to interesting dramaturgical effect, particularly as the more dancerly movements of Ballos and White dressed in magenta and floaty pattern dress intersected with the walkers of Experiment #1. Dance as irruption of quotidian movements or perhaps an unexpected duet played against the constant migration of dancers marking and remarking their space. HF/LF traversed the ground and peaked roof to beautiful dramaturgical effect. At times the duet moving against the guitar feedback played with flatness of the space through vertiginous gestures, momentary phrases of virtuosic dance, and then ended in a slow climb to the peaked roof to lie down as if exhausted.

Dressed in various ensembles of black–sunglasses, bathing suits, shorts, boots, t-shirts–the dancers of Christine Elmo’s Experiment #1 join each other and then break away creating a kind of metronome effect against the other works. Initially pacing the perimeter, the performers line-up and pause, breaking into individual and group patterns of walking marking out the space inside the dotted lines, interrupted momentarily by a vertiginous dance with a file folder holder (brief reference to offices below?). As the dancer spins the object opens up, thrown out the metal frame extends out, contracting in as she turns and then releases it. The group mentality drives the pace of the piece, illuminated by the irruptions (solos perhaps) of color–a bunch of pink balloons carried along the edge, a streamer, inflating of green balloon. As if trying to mark their own individuality, the dancers slowly peel off parts of their clothes, pale skin striking against the now darker sky, as their steps turn to staggers, an occasional fall to end horizontal on the ground.

The other large group project, a rite of spring, a field of astroturf, attempts a stricter organization of bodies dressed all in red and confined to small squares of astroturf with poles. This tactic is visual striking, suggesting a hyper-articulate garden of movement when set against the disheveled potted plants lying half-neglected adjacent to their space, yet it doesn’t feel as if the space itself matters.

A proximate duet occurs when watching Madeline Best arrange her wooden chair, lamp, turn table in her flowing chiffon dress as Ede Thurell initially covered in make-up progresses through a series of actions–washing, changing, dancing, casually reading a magazine, exiting with a toss of confetti. Set against the night sky, the pieces feel sweet yet lonely, anticipating an encounter that will never occur or maybe was only imagined.

Jacqueline Fritz’s choreography navigates a messier encounter with the literal dirt and ground of the roof, as the dancers roll and writhe to the distended guitar. Becoming progressively grayer from the soot, they creep along the edges along the ground, twisting into and away from each other, even momentarily intertwined in cellophane.

Perhaps as a commentary against the film of dirt and soot on the rooftop, Red Lather, Yellow Lather by Leslie Cuyjet with Muffie Connelly incorporate tasks of cleaning and washing after rolling across the surface. Moving from the garden, they drag a basin with water into their designated circle in the middle of the hour. Alternately, dipping their heads in and throwing back wet hair, they perform a washing ritual after their earlier exploration of the grimy rooftop. Yet their washing creates more of a soggy mess and they wander back through the crowd as if trying to disappear, their faces betray discomfort, as if overexposed.

The task as choreographic strategy becomes most explicit in Melanie Maar’s slow Sisyphean effort to push a block up the edge of the roof. Dressed in bright green with a black wig, she slowly moves up the surface over the course of the hour to reach the top. Removing her wig, she pulls on a tutu and births an egg. The halting slowness of her progress toward the roof plays to our attention as distraction, allowing me to see her progress as a series of snap shots that elides the excruciating difficulty of her climb.

How do the slow durational performances work in this context? Do they allow too easy a read, taken in at a glance and then returned to later? Or do they exploit the format to render time as a slower moving experience, more difficult, uncomfortable?

Michael Mahalchick’s Disappearer performed by Luciana Achugar seems to critique our mode of attention or lack of it. Achugar begins standing on a small mound in the center of roof, eyes closed she raises her arm listening to Mahalchick’s music on her hidden iphone. Just a foot taller than the audience, her gestures seem to disappear as they happen with such exquisite slowness that watching I almost miss them. As she slowly descends from standing to hunched over, to squatting, to lying down, to falling off curled at the edge of the mound, outside of the lines, she becomes invisible, another corporeal mound to step over.

Leave a Reply