Rouge: challenging and compelling May 4, 2012
As it proceeds, Rouge develops a very strange stuck-in-your-ear quality, like a catchy song. A certain spoken phrase, for sure, will echo in the viewer's head, and possibly cause one to jolt and grin when hearing it spoken out there in the post-show world. But more than that, the general "feel" and vocabulary of the show--which is essentially comprised of the single performer introducing and interacting with various objects (although that in no way explains the not always comfortable but always engaging intimacy of the atmosphere holding it all together)--manages, too, to get stuck in your head. It imprints itself on you, and it's kind of hard to say how or why. Because, as I just described, in a way what happens is very simple. And yet the aggregate experience has true resonance and magnetism.
In the program for this show, the curator's notes mention that a performance like this "defies description and doesn't fit neatly into categories." True enough. After seeing the show, the category "performance art" comes to mind, and not only because it is exceedingly broad. (I almost get the sense that the program deliberately steered away from mentioning "performance art," because of its hackle-raising connotations. But, well, I find it kind of handy.)
Indeed, it's almost too broad to mean anything, but to your average mainstream blog reader I think "performance art" conjures something at least marginally meaningful (if not always flattering): non-narrative, emphasis on the visual and acoustic, patient, possibly prop- and task-oriented, abstract and/or symbolically evocative, maybe some self-mutilation, exposure, or exhibitionism of some kind, etc. I say that all pretty much applies to Rouge. And there go the hackles, right?, because that sure sounds like it might be boring, irritating, and/or baffling. And it might be. If you're uncomfortable with that possibility, this is probably not the show for you. If you're curious, then it just might be.
For the most part the performer goes about her business with a plain, pedestrian bearing, which one might find renders her business arbitrary and inconsequential. Sometimes I felt that way. Other times I didn't, and I credit her matter-of-fact-ness for being the thing that brought me on board, basically, and made me feel comfortable going along with her. Her "business" sometimes roams and sometimes dwells in repetition of a sort that can be pretty alienating. Sometimes I felt that way. And other times I appreciated the sort of trance it induces, and the texture it gives the surrounding material and the piece as a whole. The performer does not truly violate or harm herself, but there are some impressions of violence (affected mostly on or through props and liquids) and one sequence of straight-up sexual demonstration. That sequence was, however, the most powerful one in the show in my opinion (and I'm a pretty mainstream dude).
I don't want to detail the content too much here because the specific revelations and one's curiosity about what will happen next are the most compelling aspects of the show. Your experience will be based much less on, say, how much you dig ukelele from hell, and much more on your appetite for dishes whose names you don't know served to you without explanation in a restaurant with unfamiliar customs. The mystery, the matter-of-fact absurdity, the plethora of red plastic, paint, and paper--this is what you feast on at cafe de Rouge.