"...A Lucid Dream, Perhaps" - Seattle Dances on Michelle Ellsworth Mar 25, 2015
Anna Waller on Michelle Ellsworth's Clytigation #3 at Seattle Dances:
If you like absurdity and technology mixed in with your dance and served alongside portions of antiquity and current events, let me introduce you to Michelle Ellsworth. Ellsworth returned to On the Boards last week withClytigation: States of Exception, a cycle of works that combine an ongoing fascination with Clytemnestra (Ellsworth and Clytemnestra were last here with 2012’s Phone Homer) with the surveillance anxieties of a post-9/11 world.Clytigation #3 took place in OtB’s Studio Theater, and made a funny, peculiar, and wholly engrossing experience for an intimate audience, March 12-14. It’s hard not to be won over by phrases like “over-the-counter counter-terrorism protocols.”
The room was a playground of images and inventions. Two 4’X4’X7’ boxes were the main focal point, connected to each other by tubes of various sizes. One box lacked a fourth wall, so that you could see its interior. Cameras and projectors pointed at the walls of the boxes, most of these walls ready to become screens for video, both live and recorded. Other objects, poised for audience participation, were stationed around the boxes to control the film projections: a stationary bike, a typewriter, and a coin-operated contraption. A garbage-can-sized invention off in one corner held another screen, operated by a lever. In another corner, a phone—you could go talk to someone at any point. Freshly made pancakes rounded out the sensory environment; not often can the audience smell and taste the performance. (Surprisingly, this was not the first time I’d seen breakfast made in performance, but definitely the only time I’ve gotten to partake.)
After Ellsworth’s voice gave a quick, slightly quizzical introduction, dancer Jadd Tank entered the open box through one of the tubes, or “portals.” Wearing a wooden box with the air of a medieval torture device, he followed Ellsworth’s ongoing instructions of what to do, disassembling his box, making himself into a table, then sending the whole thing back through the tubes. This scenario formed the basis of the work, with Tank following Ellsworth’s directives, taking costumes and objects as they came through precisely numbered portals. Part of the fun was hearing Ellsworth describe what he was going to do before he did it: in portal number so-and-so, you’ll find a little outfit (usually a dress). Tank followed each command without question, giving anyone who cares to plenty of social commentary to sift through: it was a woman’s voice directing a man and what he does with his body. The box interior acted as a green screen, so that Tank could be projected into any number of absurd scenarios. The audience could watch this version of the performance on two different screens, so even if they couldn’t see the flesh and blood dancer, they could see him projected onto other environments.
The ever-changing green screen projections and the no-nonsense tone of Ellsworth’s voice lent the experience a dreamlike flavor—a lucid dream, perhaps, because you were in control of some of your actions. Or it felt like riding the waves of someone’s thought process, where free association and whim create a world unbound by logic, or space, or time. In-jokes from both pop culture and dance culture were sprinkled throughout. Tank became Nintendo’s Mario, hitting his head against boxes for coins. He got beamed up, Star Trek-style. He became Wonder Woman’s invisible plane. He put on “postmodern dance clothes” and was projected into a perfect stereotype of postmodern dance (“please engage the floor”). He got thrown into Balanchine’sApollo (“and pas de bourrée, pas de bourrée”). Tank also became Frieda Kahlo’s eyebrow, a statue on the south wall of the Acropolis (more Greek atmosphere), and a baguette on a bakery counter.
*photo by Satchel Spencer