American Realness

What I Remember

What I Remember

by Ishmael Houston-Jones
Published: August 31, 2015 as a part of READING 2015

Keith Hennessy: Bear/Skin
I remember Hennessy’s rapid-fire recitation of a poetic ode to The Action Hero who “saves the white girl.” This felt like one mode of classic Hennessy that I immediately engaged with and was drawn to. This happened near the beginning of Bear/Skin and for me it energetically overpowered everything that followed. Hennessy performed some of the original Nijinsky choreography from The Rite of Spring and he dressed as a human-sized Teddy Bear. I remember that he gave everyone in the audience a thin Mylar space blanket to share with our neighbors, to cover ourselves in our seats and with our fingers we were instructed to make it rain. The resulting soundscape was peculiarly beautiful. This was to be done while Hennessy made a costume change from every day dancing Keith to a shaman dressed in queer-urban detritus. When he had finished the change, we put down our Mylar clouds and he then did a shamanistic ritual dance that didn’t transport me, (nor him I felt) very far. And then it was over. This felt like a mellower, more introspective Hennessy than I am used to being with and I missed his wilder, less restrained persona.

Florentina Holzinger & Vincent Riebeek: Kein Applaus fur Scheisse
I had a certain prejudice watching Holzinger & Riebeek. Even though I enjoyed the show I was irked that the word on the street was that they were the next “hot, new thing” in European performance circles and that Kein Applaus fur Scheisse (No Applause for Shit) is derived from Holzinger’s senior project at the SNDO (School for New Dance Development in Amsterdam); I used to teach there. For all its transgressive schtick, there is something very puerile about the work. Even as Riebeek regurgitates liters of green vomit and urinates on Holzinger and then he pulls something out of her vagina, and they sing pop songs and she does aerial dance — through all of this there is something sweetly naïve about them and their work. As though they had studied the Ann Liv Young, Karen Finley, Carolee Schneeman, Dancenoise, and Cecilia Bengolea & François Chaignaud playbooks and were giving us a kinder, gentler, audience-friendly version of real transgression.

Tere O’Connor: Sister and Undersweet
These two duets by a more established choreographer seemed to me to be two sides of one coin. I remember both pieces being marked by the demographics of the dancers performing them. Sister performed by the stunningly beautiful, mature African-Caribbean-American male and female dancer/choreographers, David Thomson and Cynthia Oliver; Undersweet by younger, vaguely androgynous, comely, Euro-American boy/men Michael Ingle and Silas Riener. I know from talks and interviews that some of O’Connor’s overarching concerns are the fustiness of modernist formal dance construction. For instance, he is opposed to unnecessary entrances and exits. He eschews the traditional theme a variation structure and the repetition of phrases during the course of a dance. Both Sister and Undersweet are illustrations of O’Connor’s theses. Though the age, gender and ethnicity Of Oliver and Thomson are not foregrounded in Sister, I am aware of these attributes as I watch. But what seems to be driving the dance is their obvious companionable intimacy and the affection felt one for the other. There is a non sequitur characteristic to both the choreography and the sound score; there are periods of relative stillness in which both dancers stare directly out onto the audience for an almost uncomfortably long time. These strategies happen in Undersweet as well. But somehow, in Undersweet I am constantly reminded of the demographics into which these two dancers fall. Their gender, though softly neutral, is definitely male. And they are quite white, young and attractive as well. This is underscored by a somewhat less than platonic (though cool) intimacy. They touch; they lie atop one another, there is a certain campiness to the ways that music and movement are combined. There is a dispassionate eroticism lurking within the formal concerns here. I fantasize these two works being performed on the same program, perhaps simultaneously on stage, a la Yvonne Meier’s Pomme frites.

Simone Aughterony, Antonija Livingstone, & Hahn Rowe: Supernatural
Whenever someone asked what were my favorite pieces at American Realness this year, Supernatural was on that list. But asked to describe what happened all I can remember is that the stage of the Abrons Playhouse was strewn with real tree stumps; the two women, Aughterony and Livingstone, were dressed in pants and flannel shirts and carried real axes; they occasionally split logs; Rowe sat off to one side playing electric violin and other electronic instruments; the women got naked. I know I loved Supernatural, but this is all that I can I remember.

luciana achugar: OTRO TEATRO: The Pleasure Project
Immediately after I experienced The Pleasure Project I walked right up to luciana achugar and in that tactless way that I have I said to her, “You are either a genius or a fool.” She probably possesses qualities of both in equal measure. As performance, this performance was definitely anti-performance. The audience was gathered on the Playhouse stage with the curtains drawn. There were no seats. Numerous bottles of bourbon were being passed around, (flu germs be damned.) There was quite a bit of audience milling about waiting for “something” to happen, not realizing that that was what was happening. Gradually there was awareness that some of “us” were writhing kind of masturbatorially against the walls. Then the wall humpers began to vocalize with moans and grunts. The performers were all around us, in our midst. I felt destabilized. Then all the lights went out. A few people were seen heading for the exit. The air felt charged. Sometimes a groaning body would begin to mack right on you. Was that a performer or a fellow audience member getting into the spirit of pleasure? Was this Achugar’s intention? Turning the tables on the viewer vs viewed dynamic? As my eyes adjusted I could see her young son, (five or six) playing along. At some point, (I seemed to lose all sense of time,) the curtains began to be slowly parted. We could see the seats in the Playhouse bathed in an intense red light. Several of the writhers had begun taking off clothes. Some were completely nude. Some went into the theater and ran up and down the aisles or sat in the velvet chairs. I, along with some other audience members, also sat in the theater seats, looking up at the stage as those remaining onstage looked out at us. Watching the audience watch the performance. But who was performing and for whom? The “piece” never actually ended. My friend Jonathan Walker remarked that had this been the 1970s there would have been music and people would have been having sex. I found achugar with most of her clothes off. I gave my genius/fool comment to her then left the theater feeling totally transformed in a way that few of the other shows had made me feel.

READING is made possible with support from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
photo by Ian Douglas