An open letter after seeing Grub Feb 13, 2009
Dear Colleagues of tEEth,
I want to say thank you for your performance tonight. I was glad to have a chance to see your work in person, as opposed to pressed into a tiny YouTube box.
You are clearly a charismatic and talented group of artists, and it’s for this reason that I want to be respectfully honest about my reaction to your work. What I saw tonight, though engaging and dynamic at times, seemed unfinished, or perhaps more specifically, underdeveloped. With the level of abstraction in your work, and with your company decidedly in the tricky territory between dance and grotesque physical theatre, I felt that there needed to be more than what I was getting in order for me to be fully engaged by the performance. It was like watching a well-polished work-in-progress, one for which another period of development could very well allow the piece to evolve into a more substantial whole. The experiments with technology felt like just that - experiments. The transitions between the etudes seemed too random, and didn’t allow the piece to gestate an energy that built over the course of the performance. The lighting design felt too general, often making the stage itself too wide, flat, and present for the type of work that you’re doing.
With the hope that I’m making sense I’ll say this too, again with heaps of respect for your company, which seems to be on a path to finding great things: think about playing to your strengths more. In it’s current form, this company’s strength does not seem to be straight-up modern dance. Instead, I found the most engaging moments of the night to be the ones that leaned more toward the theatrical - but forget that word if it doesn’t work for you - I mean specifically the moments when facial and vocal expression was merged with movement or with the power of simple presence. The intimate duet with performer and video camera, the quartet where sounds were being forced out of the women’s bodies, the seemingly eight-foot tall bald-headed birdman eating his way through a line of blue tape, these are examples of the type of moments in the performance when I felt that I was seeing the sparks of what this company is capable of doing.
I’m not suggesting that you do away with dance, as evidenced by my appreciation of the quartet, I’m only encouraging you to consider exploring ways to more fully and/or frequently integrate the things that you do well into your dance work. You might consider the use of language (not necessarily logical or literal). Do you know of Jo StrÃ¸mgren? He’s a Norwegian choreographer who incorporates a gibberish language that he invented into his performances. I thought of his work during the duet where the male and female partners kept mouthing words to each other. I admit that it was an interesting action in and of itself the way it was, but having heard the power of your voices... by now you probably know what I’m trying to say.
You’re a playful, talented, and expressive group, and I hope I don’t come off as a prick know-it-all. Please take everything I’ve written as the thoughts of an objective colleague in the performing arts who wishes you a great deal of success and looks forward to seeing your work again in the future.
All the best,