Monday, February 7
READER COMMENT: Unrequited Lust at an Aluminum Can Factory
It has been a particular pet peeve of mine that Seattle audiences often equate quality of an effort with the quality of results. The former is worthy of encouragement, the latter, if exceptional of standing ovation. Today's performance of the Just Two Dancers falls squarely to the left of the in the atta-boy, good effort divide.
The not-inconsiderate skill of the two dancers is overshadowed by self-congratulatory and ultimately distracting gimmickry of forcing the audience to choose between a chiropractic nightmare of a solid hour of blind-spot checking and attempting to aim the mirror in between the limbs and heads of the perplexed back rows. If there was something profound or mesmerizing to be learned from an occasional mirror-assisted juxtaposition of the ying and yang of the dancers, the very silliness of the required effort was less than enrapturing.
Which brings us squarely to the musical score. At what point has it become fashionable and oh, so risqui, to set choreography to the cacophony of Vehicle Crusher Opus 7? Was this performance a love story at a Toyota assembly line? Is the barely audible refrain a sonic heartbeat of lovers' love lost? Were the abrupt needle-across-the-record blares suggestive of Cupids arrows piercing the synchronously trampolining hearts? Was the decision to forego melodic component motivated the hubris or thriftiness? We will never know.
Which brings us to the choreography. It is admittedly unfair to blame OTB, but several performances of late share an unfortunate trait of diluting twenty minutes of sheer brilliance into an hour of symbolic regurgitation. The first stanza of the performance, the slowly mirrored (OK, so that fit with the hand-mirrors; surely intentionally) mutual approach was satisfyingly fresh. The hour that followed was a pale shadow marked by a paucity of complementary language and an occasional sub-clinical gesticulatory Tourettes episode. Get the man some Neurontin for the seizures and a Scotch for doing them well.
The entire effect is that of opportunity lost superb dancers, occasionally brilliant choreography, industrial noise, and silly mirrors all painting facets of an unfortunately incomprehensible whole.
To repeat the startling post-trampoline wail of the pair: WHY?!
Friday, February 4
I took two 17 year old teenagers and one 12 year old to the performance. I was 20 before I saw my first dance piece and I had jitters that this event might mold them for life -- Dance is….(good? bad? boring? not for me).
They were enticed by the dance, the interaction of the performers, and of course the mirrors. Instead of sitting and statically watching a piece, they were alert to the changing perspectives, the audience reaction(s) and during the meditative moments, they had something to do besides look at me like I had strapped them into a car ride through the dessert. The three of them talked about the piece on the way home, not about being dragged to a performance, but actually what the artists did, what they might have tried to do and of course all the silly stuff. I’d love to say all the talk was about “art” but not once did they rag on me for making them go! Some of the comments that I remember…
They sweat a lot don’t they.
Would you let someone touch you who was sweating that much – the lady behind me said the same thing as she walked out, did you hear her.
Did you see the lady in front of us jump when the male dancer screamed.
The jumping together was cool. They moved as one. It looked like a trampoline and made me laugh.
Well done OTB. Changing the world 3 kids at a time.
As a blogger for this week's show, I wanted to expand the number of people offering comment on the work by including an actual dialogue between me and my friend Michèle Steinwald, who watched the show last night. We talked about our favorite moments, and discussed what stayed with us the morning after:
Michèle: My favorite parts were seeing John hug Juliette with the crook of his knee and later, Juliette’s foot balance on John’s while hanging on by a finger, and also their honest smiles, John’s cheeks, and Juliette’s brow. I liked that as the dancers' bodies warmed up, I could start to smell the heat on their skin. I liked looking past my mirror to see the other audience members' faces in their mirrors, like a sea of mini self-portraits. Within the first half of the piece after Sabotage finished playing, I was moved when John pushed himself past exhaustion, revealing that there is more to performance than just physical endurance.
Kamla: I loved when Juliette ran in place, with her hands outstretched, which evoked the grandeur of Picasso and the fleshiness of clay; I liked John's goofy smile; I liked their costumes and that the violinist was barefoot. I liked the proximity of the dancers, and watching other people interact and respond to the dancers. I liked that there was no climatic moment and thus you could be swept into an alternate universe in which I had no sense of time or narrative arc.
K: I also want to touch on the notion of perception. Having investigated perception, looking, seeing, etc. in the visual arts world, specifically through a largely feminist perspective, I felt that my notions of perception weren't challenged by the piece. What was it that I need/ed to 'see' by looking at two dancers through a mirror?
M: I agree that perception wasn't used as a theme, but was more a rule of audience participation.
K: Do you think how the work addresses audience participation is how we should be measuring the piece over other things?
M: I would hope not. I would hope the piece would stand alone and the audience participation would become a heightened awareness within the experience of watching the piece.
K: Did you think the piece stood alone?
K: Why not?
M: Within the perspective of the architecture of the piece, the use of mirrors was successful for me. Through the choreographer/dancer relationship and watching two long lasting collaborators, I was drawn into their performance qualities, their commitment to extended slow moving sequences, their comfort in each other’s gaze.
K: I was drawn into them as people, because of the physical proximity. And looking at John's bulging, sweaty forehead just inches away from me and my mirror, I couldn't help but wonder how many veins exist in the human forehead?
M: I could also at one point watch John's butt in the mirror while watching Juliette seduce some body in the front row. It was fun to play with perspective and anonymity at the same time. I also noticed how another audience member watched me watch the performers too. Sneaky.
K: I liked that occasionally my frizzy hair was part of the dance performance because it was caught in the mirror while looking at John's butt.
M: Sometimes my fingerprints on the mirror would catch the light and get in the way of the seeing the image. My mirror became a way to frame the choreography in a very cinematic way. I liked the score -- it reminded me of the electricity of a storm, which tied into the blowing curtains and the intuitive vibrations between two dancers that know each other so well, as these two do. For me, when it became somewhat sexual in content, that's when I felt disengaged. I preferred the abstract relationship within an abstracted environment, and yet it all seemed somehow natural.
K: I almost always expect sexual content in dance work, so I wasn't put off. I found when the movement became humorous, that that was the riskier stretch because so much of the environment seems to suggest that you should everything very seriously. I found a lot of their touching to be playful, almost accidental, but sweet in a familial way, which works against a lot of factors that seem disorienting or challenging, e.g. the musical score, the harsh lighting, and the neck contortions that viewing the piece involves. It seems to me like there's this tension between the intimate concepts at work --just two dancers, male and female bodies, the knowledge of a long partnership, warm and friendly interaction with the audience, but what do with all this abstraction? How does the familial work on the abstract or vice versa?
Thursday, February 3
Just Two Dancers
Just Two Dancers is performed on tiers of platforms placed down the middle of the raked seating. The audience are given hand mirrors that enable us to watch the performers behind us and to frame the movement for ourselves. This unusual use of theater space and staging provide an opportunity for the audience to experience a performance in close physical proximity to the performers; at times the performers step over an audience member’s head or even touch individuals. The staging also sometimes places the two performers at opposite ends of the theater, making it impossible to watch both dancers simultaneously. The combination of the hand mirrors and the staging give the audience more control than is customary at a performance event over what to view and how to view it.
In full disclosure, I must admit that due to a recent car accident, I wanted to minimize the need to crane my neck and so chose to sit at the rear of the theater where I could see everything without resorting to my hand mirror. This had the added advantage of permitting me to watch the audience play with their mirrors as the performance unfolded. Watching people look into a mirror at performers who were inches away was a strange experience that evoked images of moviegoers with 3-D glasses. I found myself wondering why anyone would prefer to look at a reflected image rather than the real thing. When I looked in my own mirror, I felt distanced from the action, as though I was looking at a television screen. And so the audience use of the mirrors struck me as a metaphor for our culture’s confusion and difficulty in discerning what is real.
As a disciple of Liz Lerman’s Critical Response Process (a method for providing meaningful feedback to artists and other creators), I would like to use CRP to frame my response to Just Two Dancers.
Step 1 in CRP is to affirm the aspects of the performance that resonated with me. I appreciated the slow sensuality of the opening gestures, the dancers’ committed, eloquent and articulate performances (especially Juliet Mapp’s clarity), and the vulnerability created by the performers’ close proximity to the audience.
Step 3 in CRP invites the audience to frame questions for the choreographer that might deepen dialogue and the artist’s creative process. My questions for John Jasperse are: What is gained and lost in a theatrical setting by close physical proximity and moving out of the traditional stage space? Does physical proximity automatically create intimacy? If not, what else needs to happen to develop an intimate relationship between the performer and the audience? What makes a prop an integral artistic component as opposed to a gimmick?
In Step 4 of CRP, audience members can share their opinions (although the choreographer can decline to hear them!). Despite the physical proximity, I found a lack of intimacy in the performance. In considering the props (the platforms), I felt that the staging did not change the interest of the movement; I think the impact of Just Two Dancers would have been just as immediate if performed in the traditional stage space. So the hand mirrors and platforms became a gimmick that did not significantly add to the artistic content.
For me, I look first and foremost for compelling movement crafted and organized in a way that engages me in the choreographer’s imaginal life and allows me to share the intended journey. Overall, this performance did not hold my attention; I found myself looking at the performance through the mirror out of boredom rather than curiosity. While the work clearly took the performers through an arduous and profound journey, unfortunately I felt unable to accompany them.
Warning for audience members who have not yet lost their hearing to rock concerts, hip hop dance classes or Kingdome baseball games: as is often the case at contemporary performance events, the sound score at this event is sometimes unbearably loud. I recommend ear plugs.
On the way into the theatre at the John Jasperse performance presented this Thursday night by On The Boards, I was handed, without explanation, a small rectangular mirror. It was a gimmick to be sure, but it turned out to be an effective one. As I settled in, enthusiastic patrons flashed incomprehensible code on the ceiling and practiced slyly peering at other audience members. Once the performance began in earnest, the mirrors proved indispensible. Thanks to a series of platforms built right over the auditorium seats, at any given time one of the two dancers may be in front, and the other, behind you. The mirror becomes your archaic channel changer. Channel One: Reality, in other words, the dancer in front of you. Channel Two: Mirror World, where the dancer behind you shimmers and twitches on a wave of reflected light. The piece opens with a long sequence of this dimensionally challenging movement, and the Dancer Behind Me happened to be the magnificent Juliette Mapp. Mirror World became my channel of choice, and I remained glued to my hand-held screen as Ms. Mapp moved her statuesque body slowly from platform to platform in a series of slinky semaphores. The immediate effect was thrilling, and powerfully voyeuristic. Mirror World is a bit grainy; it trembles; it's reminiscent of binoculars and sexy home-made movies. But as the dancer moved towards the stage, and I had to move the position of my mirror to keep her in view, the feeling changed. Now she seemed to hover over me, like some terrible Biblical messenger, her arms pounding the air with voiceless prophecy. I was disproportionately relieved when Ms. Mapp returned to the stage proper, and I was able to click back to Channel One.
The following sequence of blatant silliness set to a blaring Beastie Boys tune provided much needed comic relief, although the respite was short lived. "Two Dancers," is altogether fascinating, but it's also challenging work. It alternately jolts the senses and unnerves the unconscious. John Jasperse himself is slim, sweaty, slightly balding. His stage presence is charming and intelligent, but often overshadowed by his Diana-like counterpart. Similarly, his choreography sometimes seems to get lost under the theatrical sets, staged emotional chaos, and jarring, electronic score. Yet on the way home from the performance, my husband and I found ourselves relating the evening's entertainment to topics ranging from the nature of art, to the war in Iraq. John Jasperse's genius is in creating a beautiful and sometimes uncomfortable friction, a friction that in turn, sparks thought. Bring someone you want share a bottle of wine and a good talk with after the show.
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