From on stage, back stage and the theater seats, the Performing Arts blog illuminates the intersecting worlds of dance, theater, and music.
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 […]
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 El Año en que nací / The year I was born by Lola Arias. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!
As we look back on our four weeks of intensive theater-going, we find appropriate the retrospective tone of the Out There Series’ concluding performance. El Año en que nací / The year I was born, a play directed by Argentine director Lola Arias, was created for and with Chilean performers who were born during General Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship. The piece starts with a birth-year roll-call, delivered with a virile, militant tone from a megaphone. The performers stay seated in school desks until their name is called. They then run in circles, as if on a track, with their birth-year patched on their back. They line up, one by one and deliver succinctly what was happening politically in Chile the year of their birth. Instantly we are hit with some themes of time-travel, order, information, keeping track, and contest.
There are many technical elements used as vehicles of the stories, such as projectors, microphones, photos, lights, and sound-bites. The stage is hemmed in on each side with shelves stacked with props, yet the environment is most dictated by a line of lockers on the back wall–which appear to be holding cells for all of their stories–and a projector screen pulled down and set up center stage. The stage is backlit by neon tube lighting, so a lot of action/mobilizing of props is obscured. Sometimes implements and instruments in the environment are shifted to portray a scene more vividly; desks and guitars become doubly useful as gun imagery, or a ladder becomes a podium, yet the people always stay the same. Lola Arias employs a number of theatrical practices and techniques that help to reproduce, as an address to the audience, some aspects of the original dialogue, action and metaphor that developed during the creation process. Arias collaborates with both trained and untrained performers. The company holds the principle that anyone can act, a theory that is ostensibly in the vein of Theater of the Oppressed, a practice rooted in the belief that people have the capability to act in the “theater” of their own experience. The performers take turns leading us through their historiography, as they unabashedly locate themselves as carriers of their own stories.
Occasionally, however, performers are asked by the current main storyteller to act out a family scene, or that of a shooting. The other performers oblige by assuming choreography, a tableau vivante depiction of the scene that is simultaneously being described in great detail by the narrator. Strangely, the pairing of bodies and words has little effect on the experience for us as viewers, in terms of the potential for emotional impact, for it is done as clinically as any 2D visual aid, to the point that the use of their bodies (or is it the words?) feels completely perfunctory. Perhaps the dissonance lies in that even as the performers are playing out another role for a moment, they remain undeniably themselves, inescapably authentic.
For most of the play, the energy, synchronicities and confrontations of the performers are strictly on a frontal display, projected out towards the audience rather than between themselves. The work, which fixates on historical/personal narratives, articulates itself heavily through verbal delivery, often leaving the bodies of the performers behind. As dancers and choreographers, we (Hiponymous) ached with the desire to see the stories told through the body more. An all-out dance number is installed somewhere in the first third of the show and we are left dumbfounded as to why. It is worrisome to think that maybe the dance (and perhaps the few live songs strewn throughout) was only used for transitional texture, a wash of movement for the sake of a textual break. If there was another meaning, beyond the group replicating a somewhat self-aware, cheesy dance number from Chilean television past, it was lost on us. The performers danced with a variety of expressions on their faces, ranging from pure enjoyment to coyness to self-involved to deadpan. The lack of uniformity would not be so troublesome to us, if we felt those deliveries were intentional or directed that way. Instead, the dance seems inconsequential. Dance is a field dedicated to, and reliant on, metaphor. If we recognize our bodies as sites of history, identity and commentary, and ourselves as viable, poetic story-tellers, then we can sustain the integrity of our personal truths long after our voices give out. For such important subject matter as this piece, we wondered why not imbue the performers’ movement with more agency, whether they decide to use those gestures for satire or sincerity? Why not develop that power?
An interesting tension around authenticity comes to the foreground when the performers are asked to stand in a line that demonstrates a scale of their parents’ political ideologies from leftist to right. They are asked again to make this line from poor to rich, and again, light skin to dark. These moments are exciting as they display raw discussion and uncomfortable categorization. They make problematic conventional archetypes, smashing the binaries of bad guy/good guy, survivor/murderer, resistance/police, as often both extremes reside within one person’s family. Another line is formed in the dark. Each person lights a match and begins to tell where s/he was during the blackouts. One says she was in Mexico City and her match is instantly blown out by the person next to her. We begin to see how, in a quest for the more “authentic” story, those with exile histories are silenced more abruptly. Thus, the front-line survivor story receives platform priority. The sensationalism of the survivor story never fully takes over, however, and while their approach is never self-exploitative, the tailoring of drama reminds us of our particular cultural lens. How big does the story have to be to receive American viewership? Has our need for spectacle become our only entryway into compassion and action?….(“My god, that’s horrible….is anybody doing anything about this?!”)
El Año en que nací winds us through a tormented private and public history. Ultimately we are left in the present with an understanding of the current social climate of Chile and this generation’s hopes and ambitions for their country.
El Año en que nací / The year I was born by Lola Arias runs through February 1 in the McGuire Theater.
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 […]
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.
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 Hiponymous share their perspective on Niwa Gekidan Penino’s The […]
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 Hiponymous share their perspective on Niwa Gekidan Penino’s The Room Nobody Knows. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!
A wildly entertaining trip written and directed by Kuro Tanino, The Room Nobody Knows, performed by Tokyo-based theater company Niwa Gekidan Penino, is a partially dissected dream, full of blatant and elusive symbolism. The set design is based off of the traditional Japanese Noh stage, but developed as a top/bottom duplex, squeezing the actors and action into comical proportions. The main character, Kenji, explores the dream-like apartment with desire and whimsy, luring the viewers into every nook and cranny of the architecture, which glorifies phallic, masculine forms. A small cannon sits in the corner. The doorknobs, coffeetable, chairs, and erect holders for the Shakuhachi flutes are all shaped like penises. And then there are the handmade penis figurines of Kenji’s beloved older brother in four archetypal renderings: “The avant-garde you, the revolutionary you, the feminine you, the pop you”. Kenji’s idolatry of his brother becomes an obsession and preparing for his older brother’s birthday completely distracts him from his high school studies, which he has been dizzily tending to for 27 years.
The upper room of the duplex is occupied by Kenji’s alter egos, one with hog ears and the other with sheep horns. We meet these characters first as they assist in assembling the penis power room. They move through the tight quarters, revealing tableaus like pieces in a game of chess. They furnish the older brother’s birthday party with erect penises, as gift offerings, and are a comedic presence as the “Elves of Unpaid Labor”. There is nothing subtly phallic, only obvious, graphically polished models of penises with perfect curvature. The mounted room of phallic power is a blatant depiction of what are often subliminally placed markers of a culture’s patriarchal agenda. And yet, as a culture, we also habitually laugh at the sight of penis forms. With a phallic-filled stage and Kenji’s dueling alter egos, Tanino’s psychological fantasy world becomes an environment rich with duality and sexual frustration.
The ways in which gender and sexuality are explored are stimulating…intellectually, that is. On one hand, it is very enjoyable to watch the two brothers express affection, amorously, earnestly pressing their bodies into one another, holding faces in hands, looking into one another’s eyes with declarations of love. On the other hand, the scenes are ripe with taboo (homoerotic sibling love), and the exposed vulnerability that comes along with that keeps the audience from responding too favorably and the performers from going much further than bold verbal and physical insinuations.
While American audiences are used to witnessing theater in which the Asian or Asian-American male body is often thrown into one-dimensional, emasculated roles, the Walker audience becomes privy to refreshingly complex representations of Asian men through Tanino’s direction of these two brothers. This is a play that tells the story of two bodies, full of agency and yet fraught with deviant tendencies that are personal to them and informed by their past accomplishments and future ambitions. Of course, on top of all that, it’s all just a dream. And yet, dreams are linked to subconscious truths. Thus, it’s easy to see that the monumental things in Kenji’s waking life will remain erect.
Niwa Gekidan Penino performs The Room Nobody Knows January 16-18 in the McGuire Theater.
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 Hiponymous share their perspective on the opening night of Wunderbaum & LAPD’s […]
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 Hiponymous share their perspective on the opening night of Wunderbaum & LAPD’s Hospital. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!
We were all talking about our opinions regarding Obamacare five years ago, and for better or for worse, we are just now beginning to see how Obama’s Affordable Care Act is playing out as a solution to the US healthcare crisis. Hospital kicked off the Walker’s Out There series last night, taking the stage with dance, video, music, and personal narrative, a sensationalized performance about how healthcare is an unpredictable component in the lives of many Americans.
Los Angeles Poverty Department (LAPD) collaborates with Wunderbaum, a Netherlands-based theater collective, and their initial presentation is a disorientating and intensely configured stage set-up. Rows of office desks span the length of the space, a gurney sits in the foreground, and the outside frame is a shuffle of mic stands and video camera tripods. For some time we sit and are reminded of walking through the narrowing hallways of the medical field. The performers independently move about the stage, some with drive and others with a lack of clarity. Two actors hold an intelligible conversation behind a fixed camera, mic and projector, and a woman wades toward the gurney as others pace back and forth assembling tools, putting on hospital coats and pushing papers from one desk to the other. The scope of the stage is broad and the mild-mannered performers steady our points of interest. There is a quiet normalcy about their pace, their tone, raising doubts within our viewership as to when the show has started. Papers are dropped: was it a stage direction? What follows instills that yes, we are witnessing every detail of a performed narrative. The show, in fact has already begun. No, you don’t have time to run to the bathroom.
A sudden chaos erupts in a dramatic, ER-like scene and the audience is brought to the birthplace of an average white American. We meet John Malpede, LAPD’s artistic director, who has been an active recipient of both the US and Netherlands healthcare systems during his lifetime. The chosen protagonist’s identity (straight, white, male) is frustratingly representative of the dominant narrative, which the creators are seemingly aware of; as the play develops, the intensive focus on Malpede becomes more clearly framed as an ironic choice. The story’s perspective, however, inevitably becomes a larger address on the health care issues facing both countries. We predicate Hospital’s intent with buzz words around single payer healthcare, tax payer split agendas, and American individualism; it’s here that the work starts asking probing questions.
Through both fictional and factual presentations, Hospital asks, what kind of political mobilization will it take to achieve a sustainable, national healthcare system? What would that free system look like? The performers never pause to answer these questions, but rather move through embodying an array of characters: medical professionals, lovers, politicians. They nudge the audience through John Malpede’s true life encounters with the healthcare system, taking time to elaborate at junctures where Malpede disputes the voices of debt collectors and insurance representatives. The narrative reveals itself both on- and off-mic, and with the spirit of street theater the performers are generous with their direct, linear storytelling. It’s the rapid changing of characters, camera frames, and pace of performance that become metaphor for how people get lost in the shuffle of the system. With what they’ve coined as a “ficto-mentary” mode of delivery, LAPD and Wunderbaum desire to show us, in many ways, that the main character’s story is interchangeable with others who participate in broken healthcare systems, not once admitting outright Malpede’s evident privileges. The buzz words start up again at “hipster-ism,” Jim Crow, and Skid Row, which the performers use to ask the audience to consider the privilege of claiming individuality and importance within the system. While Hospital asks more questions than it could possibly answer in one hundred minutes, let alone one’s lifetime, the rigor and dynamism of the performers grounds us. They offer us a creative and imaginative contemporary framework, so that relating our personal experience to these systemic issues becomes tangible and devising solutions seems feasible.
Wunderbaum and LAPD perform Hospital January 9-11 at 8 pm in the McGuire Theater.