Last night seemed to be a solid kick off to the performance program—if not controversial. Attendance was full for the two theater events I witnessed.
In a brief encounter with Angela Mattox earlier this year, at the closing party of social practice conference, Open Engagement, that attendance for T:BA ‘13 was a concern. Last year’s surprisingly low turnout overall, if repeated, could after all threaten her job. In the coming week, I will find time to get her perspective on how things are going over with the audience as well as box office stats.
As the Artistic Director, now with indefinite status, Angela has a unique opportunity to break the assumptions of T:BA itself. With three Artistic Directors preceding her–each committed to three-year contracts–there was always a shift in the general atmosphere and programming choices beyond those stints. Like a good President, there was some diplomatic inclusion of their predecessors’ choices. But with Angela, there seems to be a sea change in values and new consistent aesthetic, presenting the artists with a clean palette. Her public remarks ring in celebration of entropy.
The artists featured this year are on that frothy edge of post-modern and have abandoned what-is-modern to enjoy playing with that primordial goop that is post-post-modern. Purists will no doubt believe she is the anti-Christ of Art, if Art ever did have any Christ of its own. And the two events I am reviewing may be too small a sample to judge from, but they exemplify what I am talking about.
First, at the Winningstad Theater, was Campo / Pieter Ampe & Guilherme Garrido. This was one of the most bizarre performances I have seen. The audience applauded heavily and made it through very challenging moments without walkouts—so far as I could see from my vantage point in that three-floor theater. But there was no standing ovation because we all wondered if this was actually a performance.
It was like the worst yoga class ever. It was like watching two young boys with a large bedroom make believe an epic battle. It was like the arguments in your mind. It wasn’t a dance. It wasn’t theater. It wasn’t music. It was brilliant. It was heart-warming. It was bizarre.
The oddest moment was the exploration of penises. Nudity is no great challenge anymore—it has almost come to be expected—but when the performer is in the context of one of the cities finest theaters then it is challenging to watch two men engage in penis exploration. Let me evoke this directly. They grab each other’s stuff, breath on each other’s stuff, stretch both of them in to one hand, etc. Then came the twist: literally.
You can really begin to worry if they are going to break each other’s backs with some of the stunts they’re going through. Rip city, man. In postures requiring the agility of a yogi or ballet dancer, they bounce around the stage, evoking daemons and magical powers, battling one another in a playful manner, often one in submission to the other.
The loving nature of the battle also made itself clear. There are so few details to point out that it would actually be a spoiler to give them. There is no story: no beginning to end with. But how those moments shed light on something as abstract and alarming as some late Pollock work is what will charm you as you sit at the edge of your seat.
Then, there was Trajal Harrell. This piece was equally challenging but less entertaining and more taxing. Lots of repetition and momentum without clear direction can be difficult for an audience to engage with, especially if the audience wants to like it. But the piece, Made to Match, is like what I had just seen and described above in that, its not about liking or disliking it, its about what it does to you: sensations, emotions, thoughts. It is a piece to remind you of the subtleties and complexities of the human spirit. And its only one part in a sort of epic series that he will perform at T:BA this year.
There were some walkouts. As Trajal explained in his Artist Talk today, he is satisfied with a handful of walkouts during a contemporary performance. It is normal. Particularly they stressed the concept of VOGUEING. Vogueing is the modern virtuoso: stylistic grace that is there to impress the audience. But it does not invoke emotion as directly as flawed, improvisational, ecstatic dance. And that is what this is, an ecstatic dance. If you want to be the observer, this feels more like eavesdropping or spying on a private, personal, emotional experience.
There is one thing everyone should take away: Don’t Stop.