To spark discussion, the Walker invites local artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, local artists Genevieve Muench and Renée Copeland of Hiponymous share their perspective on Public in Private/Clément Layes’ Allege. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!
Public in Private/Clément Layes’ Allege is a humorous, contemplative, and startlingly graceful solo that will leave art-makers excited to explore and reinvest in the mundane richness of everyday objects and surroundings. Completing tasks in unconventionally habitual ways, Layes slumps around the space with a small glass of water balanced on the nape of his neck. He reacts to this burden with a complacent air. His physicality is outlandish, a seemingly cobbled-together body of aesthetic, training, and function: his turned-out walk is clownlike, he stands with an armadillo hunch, and his arms continuously extend from his body like runway carpets gracefully unfurling. He has the dexterity of a primate, certain in his ungainly body. While his face is positioned uncompromisingly to the floor, his fingertips take on the function of expressive eyeballs, making contact with objects with a matter-of-fact touch. We witness his successes and quickly identify him as an expert. His lack of showmanship allows us to normalize the experience and we come to expect his proficiency.
From the very beginning, Layes plays with our expectations. The stage lights come up, we wait tensely for an electric tea kettle to boil. The unpredictable certainty of that moment is comical. Layes enters with a series of actions that evokes and reinforces our tendency to predict. He marks with thick electrical tape an “X” on the floor, which traditionally in performance marks the spot where an event will take place, be it human or prop. The marking of that spot is not only its own event, it signifies that Layes will fulfill a relationship to this place in the future. Thus, before action even begins, we are given markers of expectation. Layes directs starts and stops with the tech booth, cueing spotlights and music (always David Byrne’s “Like Humans Do”) to highlight how a spectrum of scenarios can be executed with the same elements, such as a table, a plant, water bottles, and several low ball glasses.
Layes performs nuanced feats adeptly, sometimes with an earnest, willful physicality, yet mostly with attractively perfunctory efficiency, and upon completion he discards his props with ambivalence. Layes’ sense of detachment in performance mirrors Byrne’s omnipresent lyricism that reminds us that the many anxieties of life can be small when approached with a bird’s eye view. Similarly, it seems Layes’ corporeal successes depend on a calm, objective approach. That physicalization of objectivity reads as a kind of sparse, circus performativity, but that simplicity soon sheds away as he uses gestures that are imaginative and symbolic in nature, albeit born from the logistics of juggling water on his head. While Layes’ elongated use of temporal space is often out of necessity (unruly props!), there are moments in which his environment is more controlled and thus his play with props and time are trivial choices made intentionally to toy with our desires as viewers.
The performance, though delivered by a Frenchman, has the English title of Allege. Though we expect to read the word with an accent and imagine a piece full of light, cheerful themes, the English, especially American, implications of the word “allege” bring us to courtroom lingo, priming us with a lens of incredulity. This is all designed for many great reveals. Especially later in the piece, once he begins to claim and attest to the nature of the things in his environment, we are reminded of the title and its connotation, and yet we are charmed by his language, captivated by his revelatory assertions of what “that” is, as he points to yet another object we have been obsessively watching him move with. We imbibe his labels more than passively–passionately, willingly. His success in stimulating and imprinting lasting meaning in our perceptions is proven when an hour after the show, as we discuss the piece, we still refer to the towel as the “dream,” the bucket as “limitation” and so on. Go see this show if you are in the mood for an intelligent yet humble lecture demonstration on ways to jump-start the performing artist’s sense of wonder while having no illusions about our collective ending: that X, that promised culmination that nobody knows but everybody anticipates. As David Byrne says, “I WORK, I SLEEP, I DANCE, I’M DEAD.”
Clément Layes performs Allege January 23-25 at 8pm in the McGuire Theater.