In 2017 I wasn’t able to get out to the theater often (so I reviewed film and book and other events as well). I maybe saw 10 concerts, including the big bubbly premiere of American Balllet Theatre’s “Whipped Cream,” the new Alexei Ratmansky creation replete with 3-D ferret-giraffes and Abe-Lincolns from artist Mark Ryden. Many of my friends missed this cool extravaganza because of the Costa Mesa drive.
But I feel worse for the folks who couldn’t squeeze in to see Jeanine Durning present her 60-minute touring show “inging” inside the tiny Chinatown space called Automata in May. A satisfying blend of movement and text is so rare, yet LA has presenters who are committed to this genre. Meg Wolfe of Showbox L.A. brought Okwui Okpokwasili’s “Bronx Gothic” to town several months before its Bessie win. And when her former Showbox comrade George Lugg — heading up Los Angeles Performance Practice these days — snagged Durning’s show, word was out that it was going to be another unmissable night. And indeed Automata sold out both nights.
NY-based artist Durning made her Los Angeles debut with “inging,” an hour-length piece she describes as taking place at “the intersection of thought, language and action.” It’s all very unassuming at first. At Automata, audience chairs were scattered throughout the small room, there were no rows or stage, but there were some video projections playing on a back wall and underneath that a messy book-strewn table and a chair where Durning placed herself when she slipped into the room. After she arranged her camera, she began unfurling a non-stop soliloquy of improvised fragments and sentences and paragraphs that eventually became pages and pages and pages of talk: an unscripted outpouring that lit upon numerous historical and philosophical observances at the same time as it followed Durning’s own flickering thoughts and reactions to her words right as they were tumbling from her lips and trying to link themselves up to new thoughts. Though she never exaggerated or otherwise adulterated the sentences or their meanings (they always sounded like natural speech), you can say that Durning was “dancing” inside her utterances: controlling her breathwork by swerving or slowing or finishing fast before grabbing more air.
Durning said a lot of things about language and performance and obliteration that were memorable and smart. But there was one moment that stood above all else. “I want I want I want I want I want I want,” she began, and that that loop of thought felt impossibly strong and deep, like she’d borne down to human core and hit that rocking phrase that propels us and limits us and makes happen years like 2017 and all that’s spewed from the depths. The incantation felt so true, so ugly and essential and stubborn. It seemed entirely possible she’d stay stuck forever inside that chant; that nothing could trip the rhythmic cycling of want.
But then the change arrived– she said it one more time in the same way and it wasn’t all that different but in that moment everything was totally and miraculously changed.
Durning said: “I want I want I want I want I want I want I want I want to give.”
Happy New Year~