Journal

Questions for Eric / Weekend 2 Studio Theater Jun 30, 2011

by Vanessa DeWolf

[In response to Eric's questions for Vanessa]

Dear Eric & Northwest New Works Artists Weekend 2,

So yes this is a week late, however the lucky thing is that I spent this weekend in a class: Everyone's A Critic with the inquisitive Jen Graves (arts critic at The Stranger) and the other curious, provocative students. I couldn't have predicted a new kind of vocabulary might emerge from these meaning and interpretation and metaphor and metonym.

I highly recommend the readings from our class: “Marcel Duchamp and the End of Taste: A Defense of Contemporary Art,” by Arthur Danto and “Against Interpretation,” by Susan Sontag. Okay so here goes my first attempt to use some of these ideas, Eric's questions and express my own thoughts on the work I saw at On The Boards on Sunday June 12.

I'm going to stick to the Studio Showing because Eric wasn't able to make it there and besides he has so eloquently spoken to the other works on the mainstage.

STUDIO THEATER (5pm Sunday June 12)
Quark Contemporary Dance Theatre: Toast
Danielle Villegas: Azteca La Curandera---As I see it.
Lori Hamar: Blood Line
FINGER (Julie Baldridge & Jeppa K. Hall): FINGER Songbook

In general the work of Weekend 2 in the Studio Theater caused me to really wonder about this new state of mixing performance mediums (theater, dance, music..etc). Okay so now dancers can talk or sing, actors can dance, and singers are actors and yet still questions of rigor arise. I don't think I'm speaking of technique but rather that these mediums do inherently have readable features and expectations. I make sense or even more clearly I perceive the work through its method, I look and listen in particular ways. I'm accustomed to interpreting dances, theatricals and songs on stage as particular methods to communicate. Is it possible for me to let go my attempt to make meaning or interpret these works? Okay so here I go

Toast attempts to bridge a fragmentary story with fragmented movement phrases. The stage is divided into halves. Stage right movement phrases unfold like dances and gestures not clearly related to the drama happening stage left. Stage left a “drama” is happening between two women, in a kitchen (realistically represented). The drama is memorized, the text unfolding like a recitation, toast is discussed and made in a toaster. The dance is sudden sharp and between two women. I can't help myself, the performance seems to need me to make sense, to make “meaning”. I attach to disconnection as the unifying element on the stage. I attempt again this route of not interpreting, but allowing the actual physicalness of the work on the stage to work as it is. Can I find the sensuous? I just can't help myself and I'm still wondering how do I receive stories in performance? Eric asks me “do we need to figure it out?” and I wonder if my desire to figure it out is inherently a part of the drama aspect of the work, that one woman out of the three really has a voice and that her speeches are memorized, that I feel the dances with their punctuation-like rhythm attempt to support the drama in subtext but ultimately they disconnect from the drama. Why is it when she begins speaking of a personal tragedy I want to know her relationship with the other woman? In the end I feel unsatisfied with this work as a mix of drama and dance.

Azteca La Curandera---As I see it. Was sharper clearer and a solo performance. Solo performance is automatically clear, one person to follow, one voice, one body. My eyes relax in the dark, I'm aware that I settle into my chair. Is it possible that a work itself demands a seeking of meaning? That it exists precisely because of its meaning? It is no mystery what this work is “about”, right from the outset Danielle Villegas says “I am a boy” and then “I am a girl” justifying both identities. The idea of both girl and boy carries throughout the work, it is the focus of the work. This gender identity is paired with the colonization of america and is often represented by statistics projected in sentences on the back wall. Why do I feel this work is personal even autobiographical? Why is this important? Yes this is the comfort of interpretation, yes this is that search for meaning behind or within the work. I feel her comforted by my assuming this is a true story. This work feels like it asks that. While it's not always funny and actually Villegas spends certainly a third of the work engaged in what seemed an authentic aztec ritual to become a third-sex shaman right there on the stage, my reception of the material is largely possible because of its humor. Since Eric asks about length and can a shorter piece really deliver, my feeling about this is that it could become even tighter (shorter) and more powerful. I think this stems from a feeling that I knew too much, that there was not quite enough mystery for me.

Blood Line began with a shadow and a projection of an iphone. With this promise I rise in my seat ready for a work on that kind of stasis that occurs when the phone offers so much imagined movement. It turns into a dance of chairs. I see repeated phrases of movement, three dancers, light and I've seen the strategies of the movements before. I feel caught in an exercise. I catch myself feeling this choreography stems from a classroom exercise. Three dancers of tremendous physical capacity work with three chairs in patterns. I'm stuck in the place Eric asks which is when I sense a narrative, what do I do? Do I expect follow through? Multiple languages, dancers of different ethnicity, and the work itself at times feels it might be exploring a particular cultural ritual. I want to engage. It feels like the subtext of the work overpowers the choreography and yet remains subtext. Chair dances are not new, and because they are a cliché in the realm of dance, it feels important that something new happen or I am left to mostly compare other chair dances to this one. The performers, their presence and the ensemble was quite strong and drew me in at times.

FINGER Songbook was the one piece I received without interpretation. I felt no need to interpret beyond the actual events as they unfolded in front of me. I connected to the energy of the work and often could not understand the words of the songs and that did not distract, frustrate or disappoint me. There were two understated characters, Julie Baldridge, who was seated a bit Karen-Carpenter-esque, behind her drums and other instruments and Jeppa K. Hall roved all around the stage, changing shoes, in general in a kind of gleeful mayhem. Comparisons to “Waiting for Godot” are wildly over-rated, these two ladies were as far from Vladimir and Estragon as you can get. Sensual and most definitely not lost, yes I said it before but I'd say gleefully and maliciously in control. Both of the performers sang and mostly in unison, in high pitched delightfully screechy tones. It felt as though I had entered a vulgar female witch troll world. Their viking/fairytale costumes made me feel they were visitors from a magical realm. These little glances to us the audience, not tongue in cheek, yet definitely full of mischief elicited a confidence in the performers. Challenging all ideals of feminine beauty or cuteness they perpetually undermined a strange almost 19th century propriety. There was a kind of formality to the songs, they often rhymed and sometimes felt like sea shanties or my father's 1940's fraternity songs. The songs felt interconnected and there was barely a breath between them, though powerful moments of stillness and silence occurred these moments were full of anticipation, something about to explode. Violence and snot and skin were all themes in the songs and while I couldn't always understand the words I did feel in the midst of a story being told and probably one with murdered rotting corpses. Without the words I remained drawn in throughout the piece. At times I laughed, the whole audience was often doing so, but caught myself being caught in a morbid trick of humor. I looked around the audience, for the first time all evening, trusting the performers and the stage, and my eyes stopped on a couple (I imagined them both to have been former dungeons and dragons type, members of the society for creative anachronism) nodding their heads and wiping tears of laughter from their cheeks.

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