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Monday, June 10, 2013

Speculations on Spectatorship: Walking Distance, Pageantry

Posted By on Mon, Jun 10, 2013 at 12:49 PM

click to enlarge liztenuto.jpg

In live performance, audience members agree to enter a work on the terms presented in the theater. At the Walking Distance Dance Festival last week at ODC, Kate Weare and Company captured the very breath and pulse of viewers through the establishment of an acute, urgent physicality.

Her dancers moved like a matched set of switchblades, whether demonstrating the keen gleam of their edge in the abstract athleticism of The Light Has Not Arms to Carry Us, or whether the attack visualized the narrative combat between a couple at passionate odds in Drop Down.

On the other hand, Rachael Lincoln and Leslie Seiters's People Like You, though graced with the sinew and precision of bodies experienced in their own parameters and the shared rhythms of long collaboration, performed its seduction through the fantastical means of a childlike exploration of distance and time. A slide projector made shadow puppets and silhouettes out of the body in a beautiful inquiry of scale, a microphone lurked in a bouquet of flowers, magnifying taps on a table, a metronome was subjected to a slyly witty interview on repetition and creativity. Inflatable zebras and recorded birdsong completed a meditation on craft and play, on the familiar made strange again.

In Pageantry, June 7-9 at CounterPULSE, Liz Tenuto and Justin Morrison presented two works that forcibly brought the audience into confrontation with its own spectatorship.

Tenuto's One Saga in Two Scenes opened the program with the formal theatricality of a trio of women in vintage wedding dresses and three full-length mirrors strung stage right. With glares that pierced to the back of the house, they stomped and skittered like zombie mannequins, mugged like silent film starlets making test reels, enacted a melodramatic scene of jealousy and pride over the glittering bauble of a fake diamond ring. The extravagance of the costumes and gestures combined with the relative absence of story played on the cliché that women are crazy because their emotions have no cause; they are bridezillas on the march, Bertha Masons busting out of the attic, girls playing dress-up, all afflicted with the barely suppressed female disease of hysteria.

click to enlarge Photo of WEAPON by Jim Tobin
  • Photo of WEAPON by Jim Tobin

Morrison's solo, WEAPON, began with a red platform heel poking out from a curtain wound around the scaffolding of the ceiling. Slowly a pair of legs emerged, painted up the inseam with a shiny green vine: gravity-defying Dorothy as astronaut.

The lights went down, the dancer slipped from his precarious perch with an almost inaudible clop, and the lights lifted again on a primitive man, practically naked, emerging on all fours from beneath a sheet of marley. The apparatuses of the stage thus re-purposed, Morrison gave a performance that was at times astonishing in the absolute silence of a body in extreme control of every joint and muscle fiber, and at times plagued with the question of what constitutes theatricality -- from the thick false lashes and burgundy hair extensions he wore to the props he hauled onstage. By the end of the piece, a bag of costumes, an amp and microphones, a laptop, a set of folding chairs, an electric fan. As if dubious of the inherent power of the body to captivate, Morrison pulled out trick after trick, calling to Becky Robinson-Leviton in the booth, who indefatigably responded with a complex scheme of lights and sounds, pulling a "volunteer" from the audience for impromptu (but scripted) sex therapy, stripping completely and wiping himself down with his dance belt, impersonating the turbaned imperiousness of Norma Desmond, the sensual wind-whipped dress of Marilyn Monroe.

All the to-do made much of and mocked the need to costume and compose a theatrical work -- it should be no surprise that a dancer known best as an improviser would mark choreography by its potential for artifice and error. Morrison kept dancing as the audience trickled out the door.

The piece, as far as we know, never ended.

For events in San Francisco this week and beyond, check out our calendar section. Follow us on Twitter at @ExhibitionistSF and like us on Facebook.

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Irene Hsiao

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