From on stage, back stage and the theater seats, the Performing Arts blog illuminates the intersecting worlds of dance, theater, and music.
Talk Dance is a podcast series devoted to in-depth conversations with dance artists produced and hosted by local dancer, educator, and commentator Justin Jones. In this installment, Jones speaks with Minneapolis-based choreographer Chris Schlichting, whose Walker-commissioned piece Stripe Tease will premiere at the Walker February 19–21. You can find the podcast on the Walker Channel. Watching the first iteration […]
Talk Dance is a podcast series devoted to in-depth conversations with dance artists produced and hosted by local dancer, educator, and commentator Justin Jones. In this installment, Jones speaks with Minneapolis-based choreographer Chris Schlichting, whose Walker-commissioned piece Stripe Tease will premiere at the Walker February 19–21. You can find the podcast on the Walker Channel.
Watching the first iteration of Chris Schlichting’s Stripe Tease at MTM@10: Momentum in the Garden was magical. As I drove up to the Walker on Hennepin Avenue, I caught a glimpse of something hanging from the trees—like someone had very artfully “teepeed” the sculpture garden. When I got closer I saw how carefully Chris and visual artist Jennifer Davis had placed each hand-painted butcher-paper streamer. I loved how the set invited me to dream up and away from the dance and reminded me to look down at the stage and pay attention! The weather was summery and amazing (think opposite of February) and the piece, Den Rags, was lush, soft, and at times hypnotic. After it was over, I loved watching Chris and the cast carefully lower each streamer down from the trees with string.
That first impression of the set, which at first glance it reminded me of a banal high-school prank and then revealed itself as something beautiful, is indicative of my experience of Chris’ work. As I watch his dances I feel something similar to a concept Chris brought up in our interview earlier this month. He said, “Kristin Van Loon (of HIJACK) talks about this attraction/repulsion dynamic that really connects with my interests in the form…there are things you find yourself attracted to and then there are things that you’re attracted to but feel kind of gross, and so you’re negotiating those frictions. To me it stirs up questions and keeps me interested.” Those frictions keep me interested too.
We covered a lot of ground when we spoke: the difficulties of transitioning his work from outdoor stage to proscenium theater; collaborations with Visual Artist Jen Davis and Guitarist/Composer Jeremy Ylvisaker (Alpha Consumer); connections between Chris’ interest in Food and Dance; and Chris’ longtime employment at the University of Minnesota’s Architecture Department. However, the thing I was most curious to talk about was the sexual content of his work. It comes to you first in the in the titles of his works (to name a few: Dirty (2006), Love Things (2009), Public Hair (2011), I’m Not Sure What This Wetness Is (2011), and Matching Drapes (2013)). But it also comes in the slyly suggestive movement vocabulary and the evocative relationships and situations between performers onstage. I wanted to know where this comes from and how he’s thinking about it in the larger context of his work. Chris spoke eloquently about his interest in “the power and the beauty of these things that we sometimes associate with being somehow dirty […] some people might consider this gross and grotesque but it’s contextualizing it. These things are also beautiful and these are parts of the human experience.”
Listen to Jones’ entire conversation with Schlichting here.
Stripe Tease will have its world premiere in the Walker’s McGuire Theater Thursday–Saturday, February 19–21, 2015 at 8 pm.
Talk Dance is a podcast series devoted to in-depth conversations with dance artists, produced and hosted by local dancer, educator, and commentator Justin Jones. In this installment, Jones speaks with Aparna Ramaswamy of Ragamala Dance, whose Walker-commissioned work Song of the Jasmine (a collaboration with Rudresh Mahanthappa) had its world premiere in the McGuire Theater May 15-18, 2014. Listen to the entire […]
Talk Dance is a podcast series devoted to in-depth conversations with dance artists, produced and hosted by local dancer, educator, and commentator Justin Jones. In this installment, Jones speaks with Aparna Ramaswamy of Ragamala Dance, whose Walker-commissioned work Song of the Jasmine (a collaboration with Rudresh Mahanthappa) had its world premiere in the McGuire Theater May 15-18, 2014. Listen to the entire podcast here.
I’ve heard the saying, in one form or another, that you should never mix business with family, but that is exactly what Aparna, Ranee, and Ashwini Ramaswamy are doing. When I sat down to interview Aparna Ramaswamy about her family’s dance company, Ragamala, and their upcoming premiere of Song of the Jasmine, I was particularly curious to hear about what its like to make art with family. I’m married to an artist (a theater director), and we’ve collaborated a few times. Though we both survived the experience, we’ve learned that although we highly value the others feedback, we do our best work on our own. There are many examples of partners making art together – even a handful in the Minneapolis dance community (BodyCartography Project and Chris Yon + Taryn Griggs to name two) but the examples that come to mind are couples who have chosen each other as life partners. However, collaborating with someone you didn’t get to choose seemed unique to me. When I asked Aparna about her choreographic partnership with her mother, Ranee, she was very direct: “we create almost every movement together … our bond is so strong, it works for us, and we feel we create much better work together.” I was also inspired by the family bonds within the company, which includes dancers Jessica Fiala and Tamara Nadel (everyone does more than dance, including grant writing and marketing work); as Aparna says, “to this day, when we tour, we eat every single meal together. We really like hanging out together.”
A primary inspiration for Song of the Jasmine is the work of 8th century mystic poet, Andal, whose poetry casts the creator god, Krishna or Vishnu, as her lover to signify her deep desire to achieve a spiritual union with the infinite. Aparna spoke of how Andal’s poetry is a guiding inspiration for this piece, “this idea of the human soul wanting to unite with the divine or the cosmic consciousness, we use that. We use human love and sensuality as an allegory […] so its a very contemporary feeling that all of us can understand, but really, its this feeling of transcendence and soaring and spiritual union.”
Aparna and Ranee create their work using the vocabulary of the classical Indian dance form, Bharata Natyam. “For us, tradition is something that we hold very closely. We are very proud of the tradition we come from, and when we say tradition its a very specific thing. We come from an ancient form that is codified but within that form we come from a certain school and within that school we come from a certain teacher who comes from a very specific lineage and we are the next part of that lineage.”
I was curious to hear Aparna speak about how, as a contemporary dance company working within this centuries-old tradition, Ragamala stays true to form while creating work that resonates with contemporary audiences. She likened their years of study of the form to learning a language, “its like having a dictionary. Its all this information that you have embodied because you have done it for so long […] poets use language very freely to create new work and we create work with many different dimensions and layers that use Bharata Natyam, but that will look very different and feel very different, because of the music and all of the different strategies we’re employing.” It seems that their collaboration with avant jazz composer and saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa is taking their explorations at the edges of tradition to new places: “he’s so grounded in jazz and [jazz musicians] have all of these different structures and different ways that they approach music that’s very different from our experience. It just makes one push oneself so much more.”
Bharata Natyam is expressed in two ways, as a more abstract and rhythmic dance and, as a narrative form, through the use of facial expressions, costume, emotion, and word-like hand gestures, or mudras. Aparna mentioned that audiences’ desire to understand the specifics of the story and the meaning of the mudras sometimes gets in the way of their enjoyment of the work. Aparna’s response: “When I see contemporary dance I don’t understand all of the inspirations […] but I find different entry points or different things to appreciate or to be challenged by. It’s the same thing. Just because its rooted in another culture doesn’t mean you don’t understand.”
Talk Dance is a podcast series devoted to in-depth conversations with dance artists produced and hosted by local dancer, educator, and commentator Justin Jones. In this installment, Jones speaks with Uruguayan/New York-based choreographer luciana achugar, whose Walker-commissioned piece OTRO TEATRO will have its world premiere at the Walker February 27-March 1 . Listen to the […]
Talk Dance is a podcast series devoted to in-depth conversations with dance artists produced and hosted by local dancer, educator, and commentator Justin Jones. In this installment, Jones speaks with Uruguayan/New York-based choreographer luciana achugar, whose Walker-commissioned piece OTRO TEATRO will have its world premiere at the Walker February 27-March 1 . Listen to the entire podcast here.
Talking with luciana achugar was fascinating. Her thinking unravels in layers, one connected to the other, sometimes digging deeper, sometimes sliding sideways, always moving forwards. Editing our hour of conversation about her upcoming premiere, OTRO TEATRO, into a busy-schedule-friendly 20 minutes was a challenge. Each edit made me a little sad.
One interesting detail (especially for Walker Art Geeks like myself), that I had to cut for time, was a connection luciana made between OTRO TEATRO, which she imagines beginning in the rubble of a decrepit and decaying theater, and the work of Argentinian visual artist, Guillermo Kuitca, whose series of paintings, 32 seating plans, incorporates laser printed images of seating plans of famous theaters that have been treated with water. A retrospective of Kuitca’s work entitled, “Everything” was in the Walker Galleries in 2010. As she said, “It speaks to a kind of way of making theater or a history of … the codes that we go by when we put theater or dance in the theater, and I liked this idea of it melting or collapsing or shifting … it relates to the world we’re living in right now and how it feels to me that the system we’re living in, our establishment, doesn’t feel like it can hold. It feels like it needs to soften and be a bit more flexible and shift its structures.”
What struck me most as I edited was how fully luciana integrates her ideas into her dance making process. I have the sense that it is her aim to take the conceptual, theoretical, ideological thinking she has around her work, and put it directly onto her skin, into her blood, bones, fascia. As she writes on her website, “…with a brain that melted down to the skin, the flesh, the bones, the guts, and the crotch… and with eyes that see without naming and see without knowing.”
Hear the rest of Jones’ conversation with achugar on the Walker Channel.
OTRO TEATRO takes place Thursday-Saturday, February 27-March 1, at 8pm in the Walker’s McGuire Theater.
Talk Dance is a podcast series devoted to in-depth conversations with dance artists produced and hosted by local dancer, educator, and commentator Justin Jones. In this installment, Jones speaks with local dance duo and longtime Walker favorites HIJACK in aniticipation of HIJACK at 20. Listen to the entire podcast here. I’ve interviewed HIJACK once before, for a […]
Talk Dance is a podcast series devoted to in-depth conversations with dance artists produced and hosted by local dancer, educator, and commentator Justin Jones. In this installment, Jones speaks with local dance duo and longtime Walker favorites HIJACK in aniticipation of HIJACK at 20. Listen to the entire podcast here.
I’ve interviewed HIJACK once before, for a previous incarnation of this podcast (TALK DANCE MPLS) in anticipation of their 2006 show, “HALF.” Even then, I felt that there was something about HIJACK’s resolute dedication to experimentation that required an altered interview format. In that case, the alteration was a portion of the interview where I took my questions out of the picture and let Kristin (Van Loon) and Arwen (Wilder) interview each other. I wanted to continue somehow on that path with this interview and remembered that Kristin and Arwen often use chance devices (a la Cage/Cunningham) in their choreographic process. I wanted to find a way to bring chance into our interview, so I devised a game that would determine the topic of discussion (e.g. Origin Story, Music/Sound, Job or Hobby) and the duration (30, 60, 90 and 120 seconds) allotted to discuss that topic at random.
HIJACK were totally game, and the pressure of time seemed to have great effect on how they chose to articulate their thoughts. Watching and listening to Kristin and Arwen attempt to fill time, compress ideas, cut to the chase and search for words was fascinating.
The interview ran about 40 minutes, and I’m attempting to make all the TALK DANCE episodes clock in at 20 minutes this season. So I was in a bit of a pickle as to how to edit their words while still honoring the wonderful ways in which they responded to the rules of the game. The answer was obvious, both Kristin and Arwen mentioned that their upcoming Walker commission redundant, ready, reading, radish, Red Eye, features a healthy dose of multi-layered text. Using that idea as a starting place, I decided to keep all (almost) of what they said and stacked it on top of itself while trying to make it as understandable as possible.
If you do listen to the podcast, I suggest listening with headphones. Here’s a smattering of their responses, preceded by the topic they’re responding to.
Kristin: They [the props onstage] were in a way, a way to approach the question of how to work with narrative. And I like how the objects stay the same and stay in place, left behind after they’ve been useful and used by the dancers, and in that way, express the past while the dance has moved on.
Arwen: Something that I think about design and HIJACK is how often we do our own… partly because we like the Do-It-Yourself, and because we consider [design] so much an intergral part of the composition itself, that it’s weird to outsource it. But also because we’re already collaborating and that is so much to add another voice into [the work].
On Why Dance?
Arwen: We sometimes have fantasies of being other things, like other kinds of artists, but we’re not, and then it’s fun to try to figure out how to get what we would get out of being those other artists, in dance.
Kristin: One reason I’m glad to choose dance is that I think of it as one of the most pathetic art forms, and I feel an affinity with pathetic forms such as print journalism, postal mail, sculpture…but now sculpture’s cool.
Arwen: I like to dance in silence. I like to make dances with silence. I like text a lot, and I like to try to figure out how there can be text in dance. And music is very mysterious and manipulative, and sometimes I like that problem….
Kristin: Not every word [in the show] can be heard because sometimes several layers of language are happening at the same time, and that’s been a real pickle for us to figure out if that’s okay. In general, I’m really into flat composition right now – everything layed out very plainly for everyone to see and hear, and those are some of my favorite parts, when the words are flattened out…
Arwen: Figuring out what is the line between inspiration and appropriation is massively complicated and interesting.
Kristin: …to make things interesting, it’s nice to have scores for what can I use and what can’t I, and sometimes those aren’t the legal ones.
Arwen: I’m reminded of being an activist, and everybody always talked about the ends and the means and how they had to match. And I think that is the same in choreography, the content and the form are the ends and the means.
Kristin: I love it when one slips from one to the other, the material does.
On High Culture/Low Culture
Kristin: There was an early version of this piece … that the sound score toggled back and forth between Stockhausen’s “Mantra” and Stevie Nicks’ “Edge of Seventeen”… I was very interested in the phenomenon of being in one of those and craving anything but what you’re listening to.
Arwen: I see the card “High Culture/Low Culture” and I think, oh that’s exactly what we’re interested in… and then I get really bristly at that and at those definitions and start to want to argue with the possibility of anything belonging to either of those categories.
Hear the rest of Jones’ conversation with Kristin and Arwen on the Walker Channel.
HIJACK at 20 takes place December 5-7 at 8 pm at the Walker’s McGuire Theater.
Talk Dance is a podcast series devoted to in-depth conversations with dance artists produced and hosted by local dancer, educator, and commentator Justin Jones. In this installment, Jones speaks with Chris Yon and Taryn Griggs, local dance artists known for their witty and precise choreography and curators of this season’s Choreographers’ Evening. Listen to the entire podcast […]
Talk Dance is a podcast series devoted to in-depth conversations with dance artists produced and hosted by local dancer, educator, and commentator Justin Jones. In this installment, Jones speaks with Chris Yon and Taryn Griggs, local dance artists known for their witty and precise choreography and curators of this season’s Choreographers’ Evening. Listen to the entire podcast here.
Chris Yon, Taryn Griggs and I go way back. I first met Mr. Yon in our “C” level ballet class at NYU in the fall of 1998. I remember Chris was wearing a ripped “Headbanger’s Ball” t-shirt and I thought to myself, I have to know this person. So, I did. Not long after, we were collaborating, making duets together. Shortly after we graduated from NYU, Chris and Taryn met at an audition for a piece Chris was making at the Bessie Shoenberg Individual Choreographers’ Residency at The Yard. As they described in a recent conversation in their Powderhorn neighborhood kitchen (with their 20 month old daughter bouncing between the three of us as we talked) it was love, personal and artistic, at first sight, and they’ve been making work together ever since.
I am a huge fan of Chris’ choreography and of Taryn’s dancing of it. I think at this point I’ve likely seen as many (possibly more) of Chris’ shows as his parents have. I look forward to any opportunity to see what they’re up to, and I was thrilled when I heard they were curating this year’s Choreographers’ Evening. Knowing them, I wasn’t surprised that they would find some way to twist their approach to curating. That twist comes as their imagining the evening as a mix-tape, which they’ve dedicated to curator of The Club at LaMama, and long time friend and supporter, Nicky Paraiso.
In our conversation, I wanted to hear them talk more about their choice to frame the show this way. I wanted to know what it was like to curate the premier “Mixed Bag” type dance show in the Twin cities and I was also curious if they had any good mix-tape stories. Presented below is a text-mix-tape of some stuff they said while we sat in their warm kitchen, eating tater tots and sloppy joes (which were delicious).
Chris: “Nicky Paraiso’s been a figure in our lives since basically the very beginning of our relationship … he gave us our first shot when it felt like no one else would or wanted to, at LaMama … and he’s successfully cultivated a large dance presence there … he’s a huge fan of dance.”
Taryn: “Chris and I often watch things in different ways. I can fall in love with a lot of pieces because of the people in it or the way they’re doing something.
Chris looks at the big picture. It’s hard for him to love a piece, no matter how good the performers are, if he doesn’t like the choreography or the stage picture.
… I think one of the things we loved about Nicky is that he’s … able to fall in love with pieces because the composition is great, and he’s able to fall in love with pieces because he loves performers.”
Chris: “The fact that he walks around with such humility and he’s just always aghast and agog at those around him – and I want to feel that way all the time, and I often do here. And this is an opportunity, when people are like, “why did you move here?” and I feel like this show could be like, “this is why” because these people are here and I get to watch them.”
Hear the rest of Jones’ conversation with Yon and Griggs on the Walker Channel.
Choreographers’ Evening takes place on Saturday, November 30th, at 7 pm and 9:30 pm at the Walker’s McGuire Theater.
Anna Shogren – LA BREA“ …the animals might become trapped like a fly caught on flypaper…not likely to pass on a free meal, a pack of dire wolves or a sabertoothed cat would attack the mired animal… After an intense struggle over the helpless prey, some of the attacking predators would become trapped as well. […]
Anna Shogren – LA BREA“ …the animals might become trapped like a fly caught on flypaper…not likely to pass on a free meal, a pack of dire wolves or a sabertoothed cat would attack the mired animal… After an intense struggle over the helpless prey, some of the attacking predators would become trapped as well. In turn, scavengers would eat those animals and also risk entrapment…” – RETURN TO THE ICE AGE: The La Brea Exploration GuideBlack Tar. Immortality. The grim Reaper. What if I die alone? A film in black and white composed of moody close ups. Does the grim reaper like being the grim reaper or does death ever want to change professions, work at a bank say? What is the difference between a Wooly Mammoth and a Mastodon? How is a mattress like a tar pit? And can you get stuck in one as deeply and permanently as you can get stuck in the other? Are the performers stuck in a pit of molten asphalt? Am I here to scavenge an easy meal? Will I too get stuck in the mire?Nastalie Bogira and Katie Rose McLaughlin were incredible in this work. One of my biggest questions in leaving the theater was, what does Anna tell them in rehearsal, what are they doing and what are they thinking when they are doing it? Whatever they are doing, it looks difficult to me. In watching the material I feel that every physical moment has been totally crafted from top to bottom and the surgical clarity with which all of the performers executed these moments was a joy to watch. Looking back, it is difficult to remember many of the details of Katie Rose and Nastalie’s performances because of Anna’s constant and purposeful upstaging of them. This I saw through out the piece, from Anna’s first, brief entrances to the extended trio danced to the mix-tape.’I feel very aware of myself as an audience member when I watch Anna’s work. The performance, the theatrical device asks me, “ are you watching, are you still watching?” I also am always zeroing in on the details – the meticulously awkward costumes, the delicate lighting. I enjoy finding the details, the easter-eggs hidden in the grass, the precise little patterns and I wonder if I am the only one seeing them. Anna enters wearing a blue and green vest and just before leaving the stage takes it off – repeat one time.The entrance of the mattress was a great surprise and I enjoyed imagining the contrast of texture on foot it provided. Though the recorded text played during Nastalie’s prolonged solo on the mattress threw me for a bit of a loop, the image had a long time to resonate with me. I had time there to think about sleep, sex, the persistence of things, flammability, depression and sleep deprivation, multifunctionality. These thoughts kept flying though my head during the death scene at the end of the mix-tape section. Nastalie is dead on the floor, Katie Rose is pleading for help and Anna seems to be immobilized. Or is she a ghost and is Katie Rose looking right through her. Is this a reenactment of a scene from Our Town, from the movie Ghost? The duration of the scene allows the initial resonance of the image to pass by and creates the room for additional thought to percolate up to the surface.When watching Anna’s work, the movement always seems secondary to the subtext. Though murky and mysterious I always have the feeling that I am watching a play or a situation between the players and there just happens to be a dance in their bodies at the same time. I find it fascinating in the way that the subtext, which I am never quite able to decipher, creates a kind of annoying, eye-stinging fog that blocks me from fully reading the theatricality and forces me to go looking to the physicality for clues to help me put it together. What is happening to these people? Why do they keep looking at me? Are they trapped? Am I trapped with them in the game of pretend that we are willfully engaging in? And then there is the duration, the feeling of time passing slowly like a glacier, smoothing out the jagged bumps of the present into the easy rolling hills of the future. (more…)
Congratulations to Cathy, Paul and Jennifer. It was an amazing night at the southern. Below is an account of my experience at the theater. Please feel free to send me an email with a comment or question, or just post a comment on the site. Cathy Wright: Return 1-self The lights come up on a […]
Congratulations to Cathy, Paul and Jennifer. It was an amazing night at the southern. Below is an account of my experience at the theater. Please feel free to send me an email with a comment or question, or just post a comment on the site.
Cathy Wright: Return
The lights come up on a woman with knee-length red hair and an Ominous Hooded figure. It’s a dark image, filmic in composition. The lights fade up and down as if I am nodding in and out of consciousness, as if the lights themselves are beating like a heart. The Ominous Hooded figure menacingly strokes her hair. I feel like I am watching a David Lynch Film. Is she being held prisoner? The woman with red hair is now kneeling in front of the small clock, the music is knocking and wailing, she reaches in to the clock and ceremoniously removes two shocks of dirty-blond hair. Is it the hair of a dead lover, of a former self? Is she Medea, mourning the loss of her children? The woman with red hair crosses the stage, walking on her knees holding the disturbing relics in her hands. Her body is coursing with tension threatening to explode. The hair seems to hold her back and it is suddenly unnaturally heavy as if made of lead. She is wrapped in hair, suffocated by hair. I am reminded of hair that collects in drains, hair in my throat, hair sticking to my neck on a sticky hot day.
A blast of pulsating, throbbing music and bright light. Three men stalk about the stage, peacocks, soldiers, infants. They bolster themselves with displays of martial arts, throw tantrums, stalk each other. I see violence and sex, moshing and necking. They gather together and present their talons to the audience and grab their cocks. Suddenly they are a spider; a menacing, group-think creature all teeth and venom. They separate and stalk each other again, leading to the final image, a tableaux of auto-erotic asphyxiation or is it CPR?
The lights come up on five women surrounded by portentous silence. Four of them hold mannequin-still while one crumbles to the ground in slow motion. She is presenting herself to us and the action seems to drains her of life, yet she continues to do so retreating further into the floor. The music re-enters and it reminds me of sampled sounds of plastic surgery, this is reinforced by the action of a woman pushing her cheeks together and sucking air in through her mouth in what looks like a mimed face-lift. The women continually present themselves to us, slapping their hips and butts. They are vaginal warriors involved in a pre-battle ritual. They gesture as if to say, “ my ovaries will kill you.” At times I feel as if they are putting on a show for me, presenting themselves to me, at other times I feel as if they are letting me in on a never before seen shamanistic coming of age ceremony. The ritual reaches its climax as the women chasse around each other heaving cleansing, building breaths in unison.
The Red Haired Woman returns, back to the chair, the cloak of the Ominous Man on the floor. Little Red Riding Hood mourns the departure of her captor and wraps herself in his cloak.
Men and women together on stage, the sound of strings, they are dressed in white and they are slow dancing. They are in “ love.” I sense an irony in the music, which at times makes me feel like I’m in a music box, suggesting that perhaps I am witnessing not real love, but fairy tale love, imagined love. Soon, though, making-love fades into fucking. Romance fades into the nasty relationship negotiations; who’s on top and who’s on bottom. Suddenly, silence frames a dynamic moment of repeated actions performed by the couples, a clockwork of life partner behaviors. I am reminded of the repeated patterns inherent in a long-term relationship. This unfolds into a sinister waltz, romance re-enters.
Our Narrator, the woman with red hair returns. She is in the corner with the clock, repeating movement she performed in the beginning. A voice in the music says “ I” and she looks over her shoulder. (is it her voice?) Again, hair is flying. She approaches the center of the stage and shakes her head violently as if trying to shake her hair out of her scalp. She falls and I notice the wind created by her descent gently sways a golden curtain. She starts moving again and I see movement from the other sections repeated. I feel like she is explaining them to me, commenting on the previous action like a Greek chorus. Without warning, she removes her red hair, sheds her skin. Now she is no longer the woman with the red hair, she is Cathy. The sound of wind fills the theater, I hear the word “ open” in the sound score. Again, she takes on the movements and postures of the previous sections as if she is ravenously eating them, digesting them, assimilating them. She retreats upstage and from nowhere a film fills the back wall of the theater. It overtakes me and my skin is covered in goose bumps, what a fantastic surprise! The film makes me feel like I am walking through a field of thorns, perhaps approaching a hidden garden or back-yard shed. A series of still images go by at lightning speed as if a life is flashing before my eyes. Family photos, vacation photos, a Pabst Blue Ribbon shirt, smiles, embraces, groups, couples, parties. Soon, the imagery slows again to a close up of tree-bark. The camera slowly climbs the tree and ascends into the sky.
Off-Leash Area: Our Perfectly Wonderful Lives
I’m looking at four huge, brightly painted flowers and four televisions on wheels. The flowers immediately make me think of Andy Warhol. Four people on the floor slowly wake up and perform their morning time rituals. For each person, there is a television. They all turn them on one by one the action amplified by a Foley style sound effect that pierces through the sunrise-sounding guitar groove filling the air. There are no walls between them and yet they seem distant, and as each television turns on, it is clear why. Who needs a neighbor when you have TV to keep you company? Each T.V. is opened and magically everything each sleeping beast needs to become human is stored inside. T.V. is such a good companion. Not only does it keep them company, but also it provides them with all the products they might ever need. Each T.V. stores some electrical appliance for each character and remarkably they plug in to the flowers and turn on. Somehow the beautiful wallpaper is electrified, the art on the wall provides electricity, but not for something fancy, just to grind coffee or shave off some ungainly neck hair. Two figures are seated on the sides, framed by dressing room lights on wheels. Their backs are to us. A news reporter arrives, and informs about the meteoric rise of art-star Randy Harlow and his immensely popular paintings of sugar packets. The people with the T.V.s seem to all be watching the live action directly in front of them through their boob-tubes, more psychic distance, again, who needs neighbors or to leave the house for that matter? Now we meet Harlow, brilliantly played by Paul Herwig as an odd, obsessive-compulsive, shrinking fellow unused to the attention of a camera, his sugar-packet painting creeping to cover his face as he talks. At one point, as Harlow repeats the word “ sugar,” intoning it as a sort of mantra, the T.V. people all magically produce little sugar packets that match the one in the painting. They are connected; they are instantly in love with Harlow. He is as easy to digest, appreciate and love as a packet of sugar. A funky transition – T.V.s are wheeled about and the T.V. people perform a ritual dance to the gods of cathode-ray tubes and transistors. Harlow has opened a gym and the masses have joined. Everyone is running because Harlow is, because perhaps by running they might understand what it means to be as famous and wonderful as him. The running continues as the Reporter conducts a standard, man on the street’ style interview, gathering the opinions of the plebes to send through the air to the other plebes watching at home. The running builds into a Keystone Kops style chase scene. The giant flower walls have moved and become a series of entrances and exits, hiding places. Who knew art could be so functional? The chase scene wears itself out and we are swept away to the outside of Harlow’s house. Time has passed and Randy has taken a leave of absence from the public eye. The T.V. people are gathered outside, hoping to catch a glimpse standing in standard celebrity worship poses. Live-action, Campbell’s-Soup-Can-Painting style depictions of adoring fans. The Publicist leads the group in a militaristic chant to rile them up, get them ready to see their perfect idol. They are chanting for Randy, pleading for Randy like lepers looking for Jesus, adolescent girls swooning for Elvis. Out he comes bearing a rolled up red carpet, which he delicately rolls out to create a physical barrier between him and his followers, to keep them from touching him too much. In slow motion he picks up his foot and sets it down. The crowd and reporters respond appropriately. At the end of the carpet, which has been rolled up in all of the commotion, Harlow rolls it out again and with the same slow-motion step, restarts the same action. Everyone repeats their part. The cycle loops multiple times as if silk-screened, mass-produced. In each repetition the roles change (except for Randy of course). The marine is the reporter, the reporter is worshiping at Randy’s feet, rolling up the sacred red carpet. It doesn’t seem to matter much who plays who in this oft-repeated star worship ceremony. The Stage is transformed once again, the flowers turned to reveal their slightly ungainly looking tin-foil covered backs. The reporter informs us that Harlow has opened his Studio 54 and this is the eve of the party of the year. Again a man on the street’ interview is conducted and desperation rings through the T.V. people’s voices as they describe how they ended up at this “ great good place.” The party begins and Randy enters wearing a super glamorous silver wig and silver leather jacket, looking something like a low-budget science fiction film visitor from the future. He comes bearing silver wigs for all and the T.V. people put them on. And now, the party gets boring. The T.V. people sit and wait at the party trying to get a moment with Randy, to touch him, hear him say their names, but he only rushes through jabbing away on a silver phone guarded by his publicist. Now the boredom really sets in as canned club-music thumps along repetitively. Here I am reminded of Warhol’s boring and eventless factory films. Nothing but waiting happens on stage, they are bored, I am bored. I think of Warhol’s 12 hour film of just the top of the Empire State building. And then, what breaks the boredom, everyone’s favorite time waster, Drugs! Cleverly, the part of cocaine is played by yellow packets of Sweet and Low. Everyone is high and happy dancing. In the drug-infested madness, a slightly awkward orgy erupts, pants at ankles, mimed oral sex behind a television. Randy pukes into the T.V. and the party is declared over. Perhaps to indicate again the passage of time, the T.V. people pick up the silver walls of the club and spin them as Randy transforms himself on stage. He applies ghastly make-up, looking like a cross between Bozo the Clown and Robert Smith and exchanges gaudy silver for meaningful red. We are welcomed to the set of “ Wendy,” a hodge-podge of popular Oprah-esque mid-day talk shows. As Randy dramatically recounts his story of addiction and recovery and his escape from a life of temptation and excess I am reminded of my brief addiction to VH-1’s Behind the Music where on each episode the same story was repeated over and over. I was always astonished by how the life of each star shared almost the same characteristics. Do we create these polished monsters or do they create themselves? As Randy recounts his harrowing tale, he punctuates the story with over exaggerated gestures. His arms stretched wide with big jazz-hands mouth agape, each gesture echoed by the T.V. people who are taking in the action again through their precious idiot-boxes. At the end of the show Wendy walks up the aisle presenting everyone in the studio audience with… SUGAR! She plows up the stairs plopping the white packets on our laps. One lands on me and I feel unnerved. On Stage, Randy’s punctuating gestures from the interview have become a dance with religious overtones. In the music I hear what I think to be the actual voice of Andy Warhol saying “ yes, well, no.” Reinforcing for me again the dual nature of the pop-icon. The public face we love and the private person we are dying to know more about. I am also reminded of the duality in the art of Warhol; the simple exterior made meaningful by the complex man who made them. The poses are fervently repeated and their dancing makes me think of a cult, worshiping their leader. As they dance, they change their costumes again the silver wigs are back on, but they no longer represent the excess and temptation of the club. Now they appear to be part of the uniform of the adorers. At the conclusion of the dance sequence Randy strips away his clothing to reveal a rose adorned dance belt. He has now completed his life journey from young innocent star, to entrenched addict to immortalized soulless Icon with his followers at his side. Wendy/The Reporter/The Publicist returns from the ais
le with what looks like a handful of roses, which magically transforms into a white coat lined with plastic roses to match the ones on Randy’s skivvies. They all back up slowly chanting “ wonderful” on a path of rose-petals as the black curtain rises to reveal a giant Plexiglas box that looks like an obscene cash-grab machine. The door opens and Randy enters and he assumes a saintly pose. He looks like a plastic action figure Jesus, packaged art. I am reminded of Jeff Koons’ vacuums in Plexiglas. I think about art as commodity about popular culture as religion. It is an immensely powerful and heavily loaded image that I’ll be thinking about for a long time.