Blogs The Green Room Gulgun

Is there depth to Grief?

The following review is courtesy of Gulgun Kayim, Co-Artistic Director of Skewed Visions: I chose to see Kommer because, as a practitioner, I’m always curious to see how other artists use media in their work. I am particularly interested in how they manage to negotiate the difficult territory of manipulating two, very different, mediums –film […]

The following review is courtesy of Gulgun Kayim, Co-Artistic Director of Skewed Visions:

I chose to see Kommer because, as a practitioner, I’m always curious to see how other artists use media in their work. I am particularly interested in how they manage to negotiate the difficult territory of manipulating two, very different, mediums –film and theatre- into a unified work. Personally, I have found it very difficult to present filmed images in conjunction with live performance for the simple fact that the larger, two- dimensional image always manages to overwhelm live performers. I also find that even if the image isn’t large, the filmed medium has the power to draw the audience’s focus away, distracting from the live action in unintended ways. (There has to be an explanation as to why we find filmed image so mesmerizing, that we will ignore people standing in front of us, maybe it engages a different part of the brain?). Consequently I have restricted myself to using film as background, image embellishment, as detail, or as part of the larger, performed stage picture. The fact that the Kassys bill their work as 50% theatre and 50% film was very intriguing to me. So I proceeded to the performance with high hopes that Kommer would succeed where I had failed, or at least show me some interesting ways to create a single work utilizing these two mediums. I am sorry to report that last night’s performance was Kommer was a let down.

Kommer is an observation of human inadequacies. Kommer (translated, means grief’) is based on the premise that contemporary life has stripped society of the ritual systems that support us in times of stress. When faced with pain in the form of grief or suffering, we see the inherent flaws around us in our insecurities, embarrassment and awkwardness –not knowing what to say, how to behave or how to contextualize our relationships and ourselves. Translated onto the stage we see the meaninglessness of muttered platitudes and clichés behind stock phrases. The first part of the Kommer, performed live by six actors, portrayed a group of people responding to the unexpected news of the death of a loved one. The responses of the group ranged from absurd and meaningless to funny and playful. Their movement vocabulary composed of gestures and ticks merged subtle, poetic understated poses and movement with playful contortions and violent outbursts. I found the overall subtle humor in the work interesting, it drove the action forward, and in turns masked, then overwhelmed the grief’ behind the work providing a contrast which offset brief flashes of violence with awkward silences.

The filmed part of the work I found less successful. Midway through the performance a large screen descended from the Walker grid to reveal the same six actors on a filmed stage. At this point, the live performers exited leaving their filmed counterparts to bow to the audience’s applause. The camera then followed the performers as they retreated back stage and into their supposed real lives’ which we discover to be filled with other kinds, or varieties of grief’. One character looses himself in lonely contemplation in his little cramped apartment, another desperately seeks company, only to end the night getting drunk and his bag snatched, one is suicidal and vomits with despair, another exorcizes her rage in an airline bathroom, and another binges on junk food. Their private lives as revealed through film were mini soap operas in contrast to the subtle observations displayed on stage. As a result, the filmed events seemed forced and predictable flattening the poignancy of the preceding live performances.

In retrospect, Kommer felt flat and forced as a whole because the two mediums used to make it -film and live performance- were executed utilizing two entirely different approaches. The performed awkwardness of the live action succeeded because of the company’s attention to detail. They were subtly abstract and surreal building in tempo from quiet to loud, small to big, reasonable to ridiculous. The filmed images, in contrast, covered a lot of ground, the makers expecting the audience to fill in the details of who, why, what, where. In an effort to document and present the breadth and reality’ of the lives lived off stage the Kassys missed the depth and detail that made the stage action so engaging and moving.

Daylight (for Minneapolis)- An Illuminating Experience

The following review is courtesy of Gulgun Kayim, Co-Artistic Director of Skewed Visions As with many performances seriously engaging with the dynamics of space and architecture Daylight (for Minneapolis) by Sarah Michelson is a work reliant as much on the unique experience and autonomy of the viewer as on the manipulated events created by the […]

The following review is courtesy of Gulgun Kayim, Co-Artistic Director of Skewed Visions

As with many performances seriously engaging with the dynamics of space and architecture Daylight (for Minneapolis) by Sarah Michelson is a work reliant as much on the unique experience and autonomy of the viewer as on the manipulated events created by the artist. What meaning is eventually extracted from the piece depends as much on the mood, disposition, circumstances and attitudes of the spectator as the expectations of the creator. When my husband asked me after the show if I liked the performance I honestly answered like is not a relevant term for this experience’. The experience of Daylight is so individualized, depending on so many factors that I’m betting no two viewings of this work will ever be alike.

Daylight is very much a work that challenges audiences to become aware of their environment and how it is manipulated by various forces, artistic and administrative. Michelson’s manipulation of concepts of space and performance extends out to embrace the entire Walker to include, not just the architecture of the building, but also the people who inhabit its walls, who design, commission, curate and make decisions about the program. Daylight it seems to me, asks that we consider everything within the charged space of the Walker as an act of creation and performance including the indiviual’s presence as spectator.

My experience of the work began across the street as I approached the building from the Vineland place entrance. Looking through the glass panel doors from a distance I could see large images of senior performance curator, Phillip Bither. As I got closer to the doors, four large monochromatic portraits became apparent, arranged in a corner in proximity to the familiar self-portrait of Chuck Close. In among the portraits a male dancer (looking from behind, very much like Phillip) faced a corner, alternately standing or reflexively jerking, leaning and pulsating to the music played overhead. My progress took me through the building along the long glass corridor where dancers were arranged in intervals against the glass wall. They were positioned to look away –heads and bodies inclined from the building’s interior –out, onto the side walk towards the cars and passers by, their postures suggestive of melancholy and contemplation, alternately moving similar to the dancer in the entryway.

From the ticket desk, I went up towards the theatre encountering tableaus of dancers arranged outside the glass walls. The two I saw featured a standing figure dressed in dark shorts and shirt wearing an eerie smiling, monochrome Mickey Mouse head. This figure faced in staring at the gallery of spectators disregarding the two dancers laying at his/her feet, bodies splayed in the grass. The images though passive seemed perverse, mingling references to Disney, with suggestions of Americana, anesthetized images of cruelty, suburbia, and the arbitrary violence of civilized people.

Making my way into the theatre the performance continued as I was led into the McGuire Theatre and invited to sit in raked risers positioned on stage facing the back wall of the performance space. Like the booth and lobby area this space also featured large monochrome portraits (this time of the dancers) propped against the back wall. Looking around I could see people already seated in the balconies, watching my entry. It was here that I became aware I was as much a performer in this event as a spectator. No one sat in the main floor audience seating, although it’s now clear to me that if I had chosen to do this, I would have been allowed.

The next phase of the performance began abruptly. The house lights were snapped off and four dancers entered and initiated, what traditionally would have been the start of a dance performance. The dancers moved sharply flaying in the very thin space left available to them on stage between the audience and the back wall. Sitting in the very last row of seating I became aware, as did those around me, that in fact the performance was not only in front of us, it was around us. Behind us on the stage, above us in the balconies, lights came on dancers appeared, heads bobbed up and down as audience members tried (sometimes in vain) to view both sides of the stage and auditorium.

The dancers in front of us were ignored as I began to watch the choreography of bobbing heads. Sometimes my view was blocked for minutes as the people in front and lower down tried to see what was going on. As the performance continued the agitation and animation of the spectators increased, as did their attempts to watch. Then the end came. Or so we thought. The house lights signaled’ end and we clapped, unsure of ourselves and began to uncertainly and slowly trickle out of the space only to be stopped by another dancer who appeared and danced on stage in the dark. When her performance finished she exited and some audience members clapped as an after thought. That was definitely the end; though I continued to sit in my seat and watch those around me quietly file out.

While it was clear to me that ideas of space and spectatorship were being played with in the main building, I was even more impressed by how cleverly Michelson had destabilized audience expectations inside the theatre space. In this work we are challenged to question what a dance performance is supposed to be. Michelson very simply dismantled the elements of performance by repositioning the audience’s relationship to the stage and removing the normal modes of experience, particulary our ability to fully see. In so doing she revealed our dependence on the conventions of performance in order to understand it. We were forced to make decisions; to choose to experience the dance’, or ask ourselves was the dance us? Were we the spectators and performers of this event? As I finally left the space I overheard a woman asking uncertainly, “ is this the end? “ No, intermission” said her companion, “ this is where there would usually be an intermission”.

In a broader sense, through this work Michelson examines human relationships and their impact on the world –the relationship between architect and environment, between audience and performer, between artist and curator. As an artist whose work is concerned with spatial and human relationships I was particularly interested in and appreciative of this work and the foresight of curator Phillip Bither to commission a work that engages and challenges all the dynamics that constitute the new Walker.