American Realness

300 Words on Realness: Yellow Towel

300 Words on Realness: Yellow Towel

by Lydia Mokdessi
published on: January 11, 2014

Bodies are messy and weird, and so are identities. What Dana Michel is doing in Yellow Towel is broken, ugly, visceral, unrestrained, and sometimes revolting, but she remains elegant and collected and completely in charge. She enters in black sweats and white creepers, and a collection of white and yellow objects are revealed: a painted trumpet (protruding from her back), q-tips (spilling out of her hat), tissue (unfurling from her chest), grass hula skirt, bananas, blonde ponytail, buttercream frosting, butcher paper, mousy Afro, unplugged microphone, saltines, etc. She hunches and shudders and tiny dances emerge. Fingers escape one at a time from clenched fists. Jaw and tongue thrust forward. Pelvis and knees vibrate.

She cycles rapidly through personas, muttering parts of let there be house (something having to do with the origins of house music in 1980s Chicago), adopting a Caribbean speech pattern, dropping briefly into “yeah bitch, uh huh gggguuuuurrrrlllll,” and episodes of abstracted voguing / locking / twerking. More absurd characters dribble milk down their chins, shove saltines into their mouths by the handful, and take calls on banana-phones before spitting half-chewed banana onto the floor (she talks about toying with ideas of “comedic outsiderness, supposed marginalism and disability”). The elements are numerous, but the work as a whole is unhurried and measured. The impetus for Yellow Towel came from childhood jealousy of classmates with long blonde hair, and the clearest bit of dialogue is on this topic: “My hair is not white hair. This is obvious and stupid. It’s not Chinese hair or Mexican hair or horse hair. I like her hair more better than mine.”

Yellow Towel considers acceptable and unacceptable ways of being in one’s body; how a body consumes, outputs, makes noise, takes up space, and how these actions are policed and self-policed. There is a counterintuitive virtuosity in Michel’s broken / quotidien / basic / indulgent experiments. The audience was rapt, then anxious (someone behind me never stopped foot-wiggling and audibly asked a neighbor for the time), then amused, especially during a rendition of a televised weather report dwelling on the pros and cons of knowing the temperature and the specifics of the polar vortex (something about pressure systems and da souf n da norf ting). After her exit, we looked at each other, shook our heads, and chuckled. But when she returned to bow sheepishly with a hand still full of marshmallow fluff, she was met with an eruption of support.

image: Ian Douglas