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Jeanine Durning: What Are Words For?

Jeanine Durning’s inging is the cri de coeur of a dancer, choreographer and actor struggling, with every cell of her being, to smash any distinctions between those three identities while, more importantly, refuting any notions that body and mind, spirit and sensation, voice and physicality, emotion and intellect are separate. During most of the hour-long […]

Jeanine Durning. Photo Courtesy Deborah Hay Dance Company.

Jeanine Durning. Photo Courtesy Deborah Hay Dance Company.

Jeanine Durning’s inging is the cri de coeur of a dancer, choreographer and actor struggling, with every cell of her being, to smash any distinctions between those three identities while, more importantly, refuting any notions that body and mind, spirit and sensation, voice and physicality, emotion and intellect are separate.

During most of the hour-long work — presented twice on December 11 at Soo Visual Arts Center in Minneapolis — Durning talks. Rapidly. Nonstop. Compellingly. And in a “proprioceptive cascade” (as the press material brilliantly puts it) through which she investigates, implores, humors and agonizes over such separations, from the pronouncements of Descartes on.

Her body, in its entirety, is present throughout, and whole; this, despite Durning’s lamentations that she’s been split in two, halved. She provides her audience — seated on metal chairs and two wood benches she’s methodically scattered throughout the gallery — with physical, as well as verbal, demonstrations of her bifurcation. She leans over the table at which she sits, its horizontality splitting her into upper and lower. She slides her foot beneath a door, while wishing the opening were larger, to accommodate a larger portion of her body. Back at her table is a black Mac laptop, from which three prerecorded videos of her talking are projected on the gallery wall. On top of a stack of books (by Jung, Keats, Beckett, and there’s one on performance)—a Tower of Babel—a camera records her.

The tiny camera screen, too, faces the audience, so we see her performance documented as she’s performing. She is, no question, split—her selves in array throughout the room. Holding it all, and her selves, together is her Babel, her single voice in which she’s embedded a profusion of story, cliché, history, adage, politics, quote, reference and autobiography that seamlessly morphs in an Escher-esque flow of argument, refutation, revelation.

Durning in "inging," courtesy of Soo VAC.

Durning in “inging,” courtesy of Soo VAC.

“It’s good to come to a point,” she says midway through. “This is not the time.” She slips through streams of thought, time and space; segues through facile wordplay; repeats “I do, I do, I do” until she’s in tears; sings; cajoles; entertains; brings others to tears; stutters; and scratches through phrasing like a DJ working vinyl. Her face twists, sneers, crumples, opens, invites, dismays.

Despair is at the core of the work, its only resolution silence. The hope, happiness and transcendence of which she speaks remain elusive; or do they? As Durning slowly turns off all of her selves, each person in the room is left with themselves in a quiet booming with resonance — which reverberates still.

Noted performance information:

New York performer Jeanine Durning, the daughter of actor Charles Durning, first presented inging in Amsterdam, Leuven, Belgium and Chambersburg, PA. She presented the work twice here in the Twin Cities, at Soo Visual Arts Center in Minneapolis, on December 11. In January, she’ll perform inging at American Realness in New York. She recently collaborated with Deborah Hay in works presented at the Walker Art Center, has danced with David Dorfman among many others, and has created choreography for Zenon Dance Company and dancer Leslie O’Neill.

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Camille LeFevre is a Twin Cities arts journalist and dance critic. 

Viewfinder posts are your opportunity to “show & tell” about the everyday arts happenings, interesting sights and sounds made or as seen by Minnesota artists, because art is where you find it. Submit your own informal, first-person responses to the art around you to editor(at)mnartists.org, and we may well publish your piece here on the blog. (Guidelines: 300 words or less, not about your own event/work, and please include an image, media, video, or audio file, and one sentence about yourself.)