Christian Rizzo: Seductive Arranger Oct 8, 2010

by Amy O'Neal

Everything Christian Rizzo does on stage is deliberate.  Even if perhaps he chooses to pick up candles in a different order each night (which I don't know for certain, but want to find out), he would treat each moment with a formalized tenderness.  The first time I saw Rizzo was in 2006 at On the Boards.  I knew nothing about him then and just showed up wide open and ready for anything, not even reading the program until afterward.  I was blown away by what I saw then, but not in that sense that you just went to performance gospel church where maybe you want to get up and join in with the magic and excitement that is happening before you.  I was more taken with the feeling that I had just witnessed something so special by an artist who sees the world in a way that I didn't imagine before.  An artist whose world is so clearly unique and developed and personal and meaningful without there being any inherent meaning at all.  If you talk to Christian, you will know that meaning kind of means nothing to him.  He creates because he has an impulse to do so, because he has a feeling that something in the world isn't right and then he chooses his materials and starts to create and arrange them.  He sees the body as a material like light, like fabric, like paint, like sound, or glitter, or animal hides... They don't exist in separate tool boxes to only be used in specific contexts.  They are always free game and he doesn't let the materials he uses define him.  (On a personal note, being an artist who works in what people would call "multimedia", I found this perspective to be liberating and I feel a deep affinity and respect.) I learned all of this from interviewing him  a few weeks before he got here, which you can listen to on this very site.  In fact, my date at the opening last night, who is very culturally affluent, yet does not see a lot of contemporary performance, listened to the interview and read up on Rizzo first before coming to the show.  He said that when he was listening to the interview, that it felt like Christian was talking about a bunch of art stuff that he couldn't really connect or understand, but that when we was watching the show, little light bulbs were going on and things made sense. I have to admit that usually, I am not a fan of knowing too much about a performance before I see it.  I want the work to speak for itself.  However, this time around, I was happy to know where Christian was coming from.  I do however, have a feeling that I would have been enraptured regardless and here is why. 


The very first image will be burned into my mind for a long long time.  Without giving away too much, for those David Lynch fans out there, Rizzo has a Lynchian sense of time.   (Plus, I was reminded of the first hour of Inland Empire and, purely because of the aesthetic and the sense of mystery.)   Because of how Lynch uses sound and time, you just know something menacing is going to happen, even when it doesn't and like all of his films, his aesthetic is unmistakably his own.   Rizzo and Lynch have this in common.  This ability to create a specific kind of anticipation that never finds it's release.  This quality is also in the film Donnie Darko, which Rizzo talks about being inspired by.  


And let's talk about the sound score.  Amazing.  From the way that it enters the space (the 2 women in front of us jumped in their seats) to it's organic yet unexpected development, I never felt over powered by it or wished it would do something that it wasn't doing.  It created a conversational and emotional pulse to what you were watching and was an equal partner.  This I find to be very rare.   


And the lighting.  Subtle yet mind altering at times and never a grand gesture.  The lighting was sculptural, much like the sound, much like the actual sculptures of the set and much like the movement.  


And speaking of the the movement, I could watch Christian, the Bunny Maestro, walk around arranging things all night.  He has a way about him, an intelligence to how he does something so mundane that makes him feel like an oracle in badass kicks.  

I saved Julie for last, because she moves like no one I have ever seen. She is like vapor, like a cat, a phantom, long, sinewy, strong, like ink marking a page, unwavering, unaffected, ancient yet strangely like Aeon Flux if she worked in an office.  Christian spoke of how Julie's choreography in the piece is calligraphic.  Being a choreographer myself,  I could imagine this, and conceptually, what I imagined played out while watching Julie move.  Because Julie is so keenly aware of every tiny thing going on in her body, her energy fills the space.  Her movements leave a mark, just like ink or paint from a brush. And, let me just testify that it is hard enough to walk in 6 inch spike heals without the occasional wobble.  The things Julie does in those dangerously fabulous shoes are for professionals only. Not one wobble, for a whole hour.  Her hands however are just as impressive as all the subtle and not so subtle weight shifting she does in those shoes.   There is so much care, deliberation, sensuality in how her hands walk or extend or curl slowly to a fist.  In fact, this care, deliberation, and sensuality is what connects this work.  The way Julie's hands move is mirrored in how Christian pulls a rope to lower a sculpture the the ground, in how they stand close for a moment, but don't touch.  

The implementation of clear boundaries creates the inherent tension and therefore sensuality in the work.  When you know your parameters, you can feel free to play how you want, to feel innocent in a discovery.  Just like when Christian found the bunny mask in a kids store in Taipei and liked how it didn't quite fit him or how he discovered he liked to express himself through movement as a child.  Rizzo's aesthetic is a manifestation of his life experiences and interests and personal mysteries.   From that child playing with his friends, to being a club kid in Europe, to his fascination with skate and street fashion, to his formalist experiences with other well known European artists, to his money making jobs that had nothing to do with art,  to being in a punk rock band, to his desire to make known to the art world that what we are inspired by is much older than we can really comprehend. In talking about the title of the work, b.c, janvier 1545, fontainebleau, my respect for him grew even deeper.  The title is far from random.  It is a deliberate art history lesson  and you see evidence of that big circle of life in the gorgeous world he has created.  Listen to the audio interview to hear Christian in his own words discuss what I just mentioned.  It's incredibly fascinating and I haven't been able to stop thinking about it. 

When my date and I were walking down to the Sitting Room after the show, a man and a woman were standing outside just before we got to the door, having a spirited conversation.  The man gestured to us and asks "What did you think".  We both said "Amazing!"  He turned to the woman and said "What did you say? Something about the meaning of life and how we are cosmically connected through history or something like the big mystery or something...."   I said "Wow, you really went there, that is awesome!" 

She went there, or this work took her there, who is to say? We bring our own stuff to everything we see, but I thought it uncanny that these strangers felt the need to share their observations with us.  This is what Christian Rizzo's work does. It lights a fire.  Whether or not you end up liking the experience or not, you cannot deny that he is tapping into something unnamable, which to me, is what art should do. It's what art is there to do.  And thank goodness On the Boards gets that. 

Please go see this show.  You have 3 more chances to see something like you may never again see in your life. 

Christian are my hero.

xo Amy O