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Review: SuperGroup on Momentum with Pramila Vasudevan and Jennifer Arave

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, SuperGroup shares their perspective on Thursday night’s Momentum: New Dance Works, featuring works […]

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, SuperGroup shares their perspective on Thursday night’s Momentum: New Dance Works, featuring works by Pramila Vasudevan and Jennifer Arave. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in Comments!

Pramila Vasudevan, F6

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The stage was crowded with other audience members. I realized their attention was on the seats where several performers sat facing the stage. Kenna wandered through the crowd, finding space for her feet, giving sly looks at the audience.

What spurs discussion? Does just saying what the piece is spur a discussion? Or should we give opinions too?

As the members of SuperGroup we are trying to write an overnight review.

I had an impression of verging on a post-apocalyptic world where a society was being built by these characters that were left in this space, and they had to make a deserted island home out of these seats. They reminded me of characters. One had a ponytail, one had a fascinator; there was dramatic, romantic make-up.

The balance struck me – it seemed like they balanced on smaller and smaller surfaces. The challenge increased.

I wondered if they were going through the motions of a typical audience’s behavior: they laughed, they clapped, and they tried to get comfortable. Abstract, gestural movement punctuated that. It also evolved. There was slow, zig-zaggy movement leading up and down the aisle. I remember that and the image of very slow perching.

Are we supposed to be thinking about levitation?

The performers seemed to have a heightened presence and focus. They forced a close interaction, like when they brushed knees with us, but there must have been some rules of engagement that we were not necessarily let in on. They gazed intensely, but when we gazed back, they were ethereal, impenetrable, and separate. It wasn’t cold, but it felt like creatures checking out a different species.

The rhythms in Kenna’s solo were so precise and satisfying. The acceleration, the stopping and starting were…. Cool. Sharp. Spot on.

I have something else to say about the rules of engagement. The traditional rules were turned on their head, so I felt distracted by my relationship to other audience members. I was distracted by my own comfort and the viewing comfort of others. I was not fully invested in watching the performers because I was balancing that preoccupation.

I had a moment during the solo, where I wondered if something was being whipped up.  Meanwhile the formality of the rest, the triangle of light, the other performers’ slow, straight walking, these things were conflicting.

The sound transported me, especially when the slide didgeridoo started. I loved the bells on Kenna’s costume. As the didgeridoo got further and further away, in contrast to the shrinking triangle of light, the space and time were altered. It became vast, constant, expansive, and complex. There were those juicy guttural drones. Her movements were controlled and precise, but the sound had a water-like element: tense with possibilities.

 

Jennifer Arave, Canon

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She came out in a mask. She had those coveted red shoes and that powder blue coat.  These vestiges of girlhood, flippantly tossed alongside punk aesthetic – ripped tights, white t-shirt.

In general, I thought there was an awkwardness, from beginning to end, that drew me in. It was tantalizing. I was curious about it from the very start when she was in the corner, rocking, in preparation for this strange performance.

It was loud for sure. I was impressed by how loud it was in the space. I’m glad I used earplugs and I’m proud to admit it.

I didn’t use earplugs.

Good for you.

It was documentation or a representation of a kind of anger. Was she really angry about something?  Does it matter what the anger was directed at?

All members of SuperGroup are now admitting that we have never been to a punk show.  We speak with no authority when we talk about punk.

One time I was at a sort of ska-punk show. It was not cool.

The disassociation of the punk voice from the punk body made the movement a fascinating mix of aggression and impotency. These scenarios kept getting set up and then would fizzle out before there was a big payoff. It felt like a conscious choice, connected to the omission of the voice.

I wanted to be closer. I wanted to be put upon, to be made weaker in the power dynamic.  There’s something so safe about being so far away.

I think that was the point.

Even though the drums were visceral, the distance made me view it as a representation of something. If I had been down there, looking up at her, it would have been different.  The experience was still in the realm of a dance concert.

Yeah, that was the point.

The first time she really got to let her voice be loud and clear was when she ate the microphone. There was no constraint, finally, and there was a satisfying synchronicity between body and voice.

She deconstructed and re-contextualized most of the punk experience, leaving only the drummer and the lead singer’s movements.

I have a little more to say. Calling it “Canon” felt like a study, it felt clinical. So, I enjoyed her going into the medical scene. There was something symbolically sterile and exacting that referenced her process. This grand gesture, this surgery, represented the climax of failure, which ultimately satisfied.

We have to talk about the swinging microphone. It sounded like breathing; the image was like captaining a ship, being at the helm – the wind, the sound of the foghorn. The striding beat had dropped out and I was able to step out of the situation and have imaginative play.

Grotesque Animals: I’ll Tell You Yours If You Tell Me Mine

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, Jeffrey Wells from SuperGroup shares his perspective on Thursday night’s Out […]

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, Jeffrey Wells from SuperGroup shares his perspective on Thursday night’s Out There performance of El Pasado es un Animal Grotesco (The Past Is a Grotesque Animal) by Mariano Pensotti. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

In Lightsey Darst’s recent article about the Out There series, she brings up the question of the demystification of a performance after one has experienced it.  She mentions fleeing a talkback “before the production utterly disappeared for me under the weight of explanation.” That somehow in our effort to understand a performance better by asking questions, reading program notes, learning how/when/why/where/by whom it was made, that an audience member’s actual experience gets clouded over. That being said, read this at your own risk.

Tending to agree with Lightsey (though I’ve really been enjoying the SpeakEasy events this year!), I also like to enter a performance as context-less as possible, especially when it’s someone’s work I’ve never experienced before, as was the case with Mariano Pensotti’s El Pasado es un Animal Grotesco (The Past Is a Grotesque Animal). I did not read the program notes, which maybe outs me as a novice performance writer (that’s a lie, I’m not even a performance writer at all, except that I’m writing about this performance). I did not google Mariano Pensotti. I did not watch any videos or read any articles, interviews, or transcripts (ack! so much information!) about the show in full.  I did read the opening sentences of something that described someone’s association with the set as being dollhouse-like (I think — don’t quote me on that), which now probably explains why from the moment the show started I was flooded with memories of my sister’s room, our toy house with the removable cardboard roof exposing the small cubicled rooms of my imaginary doll family. And from there to my sister’s spinning ballerina jewelry box. And from there to the Lazy Susan my mom purchased from a wood-worker in the upper peninsula of Michigan. And from there to the countless family dinners with “Susan” holding court (and condiments) right there in the center of the table. I now wonder how my experience would have been altered had I never had the dollhouse association. I certainly was engulfed in personal nostalgia from the get-go.

I imagine if you’ve made it this far, I may have already somehow crushed your experience with the weight of my explanation.  But maybe that’s not so bad after all? Maybe you had a Lazy Susan too? Or a mom?

This is a play that tells the stories of Pablo, Dana, Mario, Vicky, and Laura. Sometimes things happen to them that are interesting, and sometimes the things that happen to them feel normal. Sometimes those things are the same. Some of the things that happen to them you might relate to, and some maybe not.  They are people living in the decade between the late nineties and the late aughts, and so are/were we.

As I write this it is sounding trite, and I’m not quite sure that is the tone I’m shooting for. But there is something about this performance, maybe the realistic performance styles, maybe the use of narration, or maybe just the monotony of the rotating set, that made me feel everything was very normal.  Sometimes that normality got a little tiresome, but more often than not, it left me feeling curious and moved.

It may have been the influence of the “Global Visionaries” subtitle for this year’s Out There, but I couldn’t escape the human connectivity I felt. It feels silly to say but everything happening felt totally within the realm of my possibility. Even the most obscene moments, punctuated by the vocalizations of audience members around me, held an easy inevitability for me, which I liked. Dramatic, kinky, harrowing events happen right there with everything else, it only depends on which way they’re/we’re facing.

All these events were narrated, as if they had already happened, or as if they might happen someday. Come to think of it, I can’t actually recall the verb tenses used. (I wished I spoke Spanish — I’m a slow reader). These were stories of the lives people have, the lives they want, the lives they plan for, the lives they’ll never get, the lives they end up with. Which in the end left me with a nonplussed feeling that somewhere someone is thinking of a life that looks like mine and the life that I am thinking of is already being lived. Fiction is fact is fiction is fact.

What did you think, feel, see, do? And what about that attractive guy that kept coming out with the file boxes? What was he all about?

Comments welcome!

Quit Your Day Job: SuperGroup on Chelfitsch

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, Erin Search-Wells from SuperGroup shares her perspective on Thursday night’s Out There performance of Hot Pepper, Air Conditioner, and the Farewell Speech by chelfitsch/Toshiki Okada. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

All I have to say are good things. So for the purpose of making this interesting at all, instead of just a list of why I like, and what I like, and how the sum of the parts became a whole that was transcendent, I will try to write it, in the fashion of the translated surtitles.

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, Erin Search-Wells from SuperGroup shares her perspective on Thursday night’s Out There performance of Hot Pepper, Air Conditioner, and the Farewell Speech by chelfitsch/Toshiki Okada. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

All I have to say are good things. So for the purpose of making this interesting at all, instead of just a list of why I like, and what I like, and how the sum of the parts became a whole that was transcendent, I will try to write it, in the fashion of the translated surtitles.

I went to a performance last night. First of all, I settled in to the comfort of mundane cycles. I realized they would pause, reset, and the music and lights would change, and then another would speak. And then there was a change of pace. (I don’t know if the chelfitsch company would approve of me bringing this up but I could not help but remember learning about Jo-ha-kyu in theater school. You should actually click the link because its interesting stuff. It isn’t the same thing as a beginning, middle, and end, which is like, for kindergartners.)

Have you noticed that if you go to the theater, sometimes you like it, or it’s really terrible, and then other times, you are dancing after it, or you can’t stop smiling, or perhaps you want to get back into the practice of writing?

That is a really fantastic feeling to leave a show with: I have seen something that is truly different and works. It seems like contemporary performance has a recurring challenge in “talking and moving/dancing at the same time.” It should be totally easy for us humans, but somehow it is still a “problem” to solve. This is one solution.

You could look at this as a “quit your day job” kind of play. Which it is. I mean really, we should all just quit our day jobs. But that’s unrealistic, that’s not what I mean. So what if, instead, we could live like a free body: where no bodily movement would be ridiculous or silly or embarrassing? Our movements would be taken as equal to the words we were saying. So if my foot was out when I said that I wanted to be “taken on a ride,” you would look at my foot, and you would say, “Now I understand, more deeply, more fully, what “taken for a ride” means.”

Wouldn’t it be great if all human bodies went to workplaces and expressed themselves equally physically and verbally? It would be freedom. There would be no wrong answers. We will see. Maybe on Saturday when I take the class at the Walker, where Toshiki Okada will teach us how to physicalize our unconscious, and repeat, and subvert, then we will see. Maybe I will have it all wrong. Maybe. But I have a feeling that the answer won’t be, “NO! You are doing this wrong! Your body should be moving UP and OUT, and you shouldn’t follow EVERY impulse, only the RIGHT ones, the ones that make SENSE.” I’m pretty sure those voices have no room in this practice.

Do we think there has to be a right and wrong way of doing something, for someone to become a master of it? Or can we all do this? I hope I can.

I know it will look weird if I start to run around a lunchroom table with my arms wrapped around me, and my knees together, in the real world. So maybe I’ll find secret ways to do it every now and then. I could have watched that part forever, by the way.

Also there was a very alarming metaphor about a cicada that will stir you.

Well, I wasn’t very successful at writing like chelfitsch surtitles. You should go. You could just watch the movement, you could just marvel/laugh at the writing, or you could flutter between the two.

Not About the Stamps: Truth and Justice in Looking

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, Erin Search-Wells from SuperGroup shares her perspective on Thursday night’s Out […]

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, Erin Search-Wells from SuperGroup shares her perspective on Thursday night’s Out There performance of Looking for a Missing Employee by Rabih Mroué.  Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

Ah yes! A crime! A play! This looks like a job for me! Not only did I wikipedia Lebanon, I even considered renting Waltz with Bashir before I saw this play. Not to mention my experience with Forensic Anthropology (Bones) and Criminal Law (Special Victims Unit, Damages); these things combined I have decided I can help Mr. Rabih Mroué solve the case of the missing employee. There is even somebody taking notes for me! I am lucky. I’m merely four seats away from the performer who is telling the story, and yet I feel like I am also watching a YouTube video from far far away. In between myself and the live performer sit a few incredulous folks. One says, “Am I going to like this? Its been a long time since I’ve seen a play.” Halfway through, after hearing them leave several times, I hear the same doubtful voice behind me say, “I don’t get it. So there’s some money missing. And?” At another point, as Rabih Mroué promises to break into song: “Oh, you have got to be kidding.”

Let me be clear. These voices were not my inner voice. They were the people sitting behind me. And that, as they say, is the Magic of Theater. We have to sit in a live room with a bunch of squirming misfits who have a lot of opinions and want to be smart, and also hate smart people at the same time. We want to be smarter than other people and also, simultaneously, harbor distaste for faux intellectuals. I think it feels good to watch other people fidgeting, not knowing where to look, wondering if they should keep clapping, wondering where the performer(s) is/are. But now I have to ask myself a harder, tougher question that gets at the meat of this show. What does this form of messy co-existence have to do with solving a mystery? In this casual blog post, I will attempt to say “EVERYTHING.”

First of all, I’m trying not to give away too many details of the crime because some of you haven’t seen the show yet. How am I doing? It is pretty tough to share only a few things, winnowing out some of the things that were shared by someone who had to winnow out some things for a show, pulled together from highly unreliable news sources. Mr. Mroué is extremely successful at withholding information and I like it. (I was reminded of Kafka immediately and then told to stop thinking of Kafka.) I like when he leaves us with a mysterious musical interlude. I like it when he refuses to show us articles for purposes of privacy, decency, bad photocopying, and simply time.

At first I think if I can figure something out: what really happened, the steps of the cover-up, who spent the money, then I will feel satisfaction. But burying ourselves in a story, even if it is “solved” or if we “get it” will only lead us to an ending. And then what do we have? I realized pretty quickly that “Detective Stabler” wouldn’t be predictably losing his cool, “Olivia Benson” wouldn’t be walking in on a victim taking revenge into her own hands, and “Dr. Temperance Brennan’s” heart wouldn’t be melting bit by bit.

Let me say something about boredom. I insist that the experience of boredom is an indicator that something else is going on inside. Let boredom exist without being impatient with it. It’s really just a door to the next experience.

Here on this blog I am supposed to share my reaction, but I can’t deny how other peoples opinions affect me. My judgments are ever-changing. So when somebody I talked to after the show said, “I didn’t care about the story,” I thought, “What story? The story for me, was a lot bigger than what happened to a man and his wife and the prime minister and some stamp forgers. It was the story of people (us) who deserve our organizations to be better. We are the main character. And yes, we can have empathy for our collective selves. Truth is not a guarantee. It’s not a right. Anything can be published. There’s no justice.”

At the beginning of Searching for a Missing Employee, we receive a message, loosely rephrased, in my memory: “I am not interested in finding the guilty and the innocent.” At the end the artist makes the statement again, only at the end he speaks it in his own language. Even though it had been written in English at the beginning of the show, a deep voice from the audience called out, at the end of the show, “Translation?” So for me, and everybody else in the theater, that was the last line we heard of the play. The last word was spoken by an audience member who hadn’t put two and two together. I liked the night because it reminded me that we are people and people made these institutions, these organizations. We deserve better but blaming is futile. As Mr. Mroué is doing, we can ask questions about the institutions that are meant to support and serve the people. But we all made/accepted/live with/those institutions of state, treasury, law, police, press, etc.. Sound serious? Thanks to Mroué’s innocent presence, I also found myself laughing at the ridiculousness of it all.

Me and the other members of SuperGroup have been talking about how to spark dialogue about Out There. I think we (audience, performance community, etc.) all need to practice saying what we like and don’t like with respect and careful thought, and not be afraid to disagree and/or learn something new. How do we spark debate? I’ve decided its by saying decidedly that we liked or didn’t like something. So here goes. Overall, I liked Looking for a Missing Employee. A lot. Let the dogs come.

Untitled Blog Post: Lost in These Bodies

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, Sam Johnson from SuperGroup shares his perspective on Thursday night’s performance […]

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, Sam Johnson from SuperGroup shares his perspective on Thursday night’s performance of  Untitled Feminist Show by Young Jean Lee.  Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

I’m a performing artist. I don’t think I have ever shared my thoughts about a show in writing in a public forum. Definitely not a blog post. Maybe a college paper, which is kind of pseudo-public. It scares me. I can’t speak with authority about any of this.

Going into the show last night I knew there would be nudity. Lots of it. The promotional material made that clear. Sitting there before it started I thought about the main image I had seen to promote the show. With the censor bars. I wondered if those bars would work retroactively to the show. That a show that (I was hoping) would revel in nudity had a public image making it clear that nudity should be covered.

This is not a critique, I understand why it was necessary. I decided to allow it to start off my mind in complexity/ambiguity/contradiction. And all those people in the audience, sold out, abuzz. I wondered why? Young Jean Lee’s recognition and deserved (I think, though I am no expert; I said that already, right?) accolades? The promise of nudity? The word “feminist” in the title? The energizing spring in January? I’ll assume it was all of that.

As the lights went down to start the show I felt a great amount of anticipation: How will I be introduced to these naked bodies? If this show has no text, as I’d heard, what will it have? Why is it still billed as theater? Uh-oh, stay focused.

I objectified the performers almost immediately upon their entrance. This kind of objectify: “to represent concretely; present as an object,” not the kind where bodies are turned mentally into only sexual objects. As their naked bodies walked past I marveled at them. The structures and presence and physicalness. The bones and sinew and flesh and skin and hair.

And as the piece went on I found myself lost in the bodies. When I checked in I wondered if I wasn’t that interested in what was actually happening on stage – the narratives and commentary. The fairytale-like story happened. I saw a lot of different representations of women. Mother/caretaker/sex/fighter/witch/innocent/dancer/fire/bitch/waif/man/pop star/child/burlesque performer, etc.

But none of it drew me away from the bodies.

I felt the presentation of things. This white square far away from me where these naked people danced. And it felt like they danced for the audience as much as for themselves. I noticed that I kept wondering if I would at some point feel like I was watching a community develop apart from me, but I mostly felt pretty continually addressed, included, explicitly, one way or another.

And I wondered what it would be like to have breasts. In a way that I hadn’t thought about in awhile, or ever. The physical weight and presence of them. And I wondered if I would be turned on in a different way if the whole cast was attractive, naked men. And how that would change my experience.

And I kept noticing the music. How I kept feeling like it drove the movement and set the tone. I didn’t like it. I didn’t like how much it felt like an outside force: prearranged, set. Maybe that was the point. During the shaking section–which led into a thrashing/bouncing/angry/joyful/powerful/confrontational/inclusive solo–I wanted the heavy guitar music to stop. I wanted to feel like the energy was more mysterious. I didn’t want to draw lines back to the music, but I did.

As I left the theater I had a lot of questions. Why this why that. Why was the vocalizing almost exclusively when only one person was on stage? Why text in that one song, in a language I couldn’t understand? What do all of these archetypes of femaleness tell me? Why did so much of the big movement seem so general to me? Why could I feel the segments so strongly? Did I like that? What did that last image mean? Why don’t I find the same things funny so many people in the rest of the audience find funny? Etc… etc… etc…

But I also had all that time with all those bodies. That intimate knowledge. The celebration and reverence and messiness and joy and voyeurism and complications.

What did you think? Feel? Know? Question? Respond to? Respond to?! Respond to this! Please!