Performa 07 Live
Here's your chance to read comments, reviews and ideas arising out of this year's Biennial posted by specially commissioned writers, critics and theorists. The Writing Live Fellows have been generously supported by Arts Council England.
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11/05/07 05:30:53 pm
'A Chinatown Remedy'
Christian Jankowski Rooftop Routine (2007).
Christian Jankowski Rooftop Routine (2007).
Christian Jankowski Rooftop Routine (2007).
Christian Jankowski Rooftop Routine
, the artists residence on Division Street, 10am Nov 03 2007
Presented By PERFORMA
It??s 10am on November 3rd and a small, tired looking crowd stand on the rooftop of Ming Tower on Division Street, Chinatown. We have been invited here, to the roof of the artist Christian Jankowski??s apartment, to witness Rooftop Routine
an early morning collaborative performance that is part of PERFOMA 07.
Just across from us on an adjacent rooftop is a Chinese woman stood amid bits of junk, walls of graffiti, discarded chairs and cans. She is dressed in red and is hula-hooping for all her worth rocking slightly back and forth, with both arms in the air, her palms toward her. Back on our roof thirty seconds later someone excitedly points in another direction just west of the original hula-hooper; another hula-hooper has been spotted doing the same routine. Then another. All in all the Chinese woman sets off a hula-hooping chain reaction that involves about 20 people and stretches in a three block radius around us.
Combined, the gyrating, sports-clad hula-hoopers are beautifully at odds with the grey New York morning, with its loud and busy rush hour streets, looming Uptown skyline and litter strewn Chinatown rooftops. The shared, simple arm gestures of the hula-hoopers, which change variously from waving arms up and down and turning palms inside and out, move out sequentially from the Chinese
woman, travelling beyond any one individual hula-hooper??s body or sightline. This autonomy of movement gives the routine itself a visceral and contagious quality or choreography that moves through, but is independent of, the bodies of the hula-hoopers. Spreading like a happy rash over the rooftops, each change in the hula-hoop workout create links, making tangible the physical and conceptual bonds that bind us here together; this project, these buildings, these bodies.
The basis for Rooftop Routine
was Jankowski looking out of his apartment window to discover his neighbour, Suat Ling Chua, doing her daily 40 minute hula-hoop workout on the roof of her apartment opposite. It is outside the frame of this project that spying on what your neighbour gets up to as part of her personal fitness regime might be a dubious starting point for a performance. Also not in the picture is why Suat Ling Chua was hula-hooping on her roof in the first place and whether or not hula-hooping is actually a sport, it is also unclear what Suat Ling Chua??s actual level of input or personal investment in the project is (aside from being the lead hula-hooper). All this is of interest, but what really matters is that the artist eventually found, and initiated contact with, Suat Ling Chua and the rest, as they say, is history.
The coming together of the community of Chinatown and New York??s contemporary art world is not something new or unique. Chinatown, one of the remaining parts of New York to retain its (Chinese) inhabitants and distinct (Chinese) flavour, is also home to many New York artists - including Jankowski - who live or keep art studios in the area. In recent history, this mix of low rent, available space, immigrant communities and artists has inevitably signalled areas in danger of impending corporate development or gentrification. Whether or not this is the immediate future for Ming Tower such local geographic and economic concerns seem important to Rooftop Routine
. Seen in this political light, Jankowski??s deceptively simple human chain of hula-hoopers is the perfect cover for a performative restoration of neighbourhood links that highlight the area??s distinct blend of community, architecture and art that might just keep the developers at bay for a while longer.
11/05/07 04:49:52 pm
Second Front Took Manhattan in Second Life.
11/05/07 04:49:17 pm
'Rhetoric as Practise'
Adam Pendleton, The Revival New York (Hans Peter Feldman), 2007
Adam Pendleton The Revival
Stephan Weiss Studio, Nov 1.
The lights go low. Conversations peter out. A single, clear, female voice resonates around Stephan Weiss studio. She is singing a Duke Ellington song and her lone voice ?? disembodied and unaccompanied ?? fills the hall and demands the audience??s attention.
Adam Pendleton??s The Revival
, a PERFORMA Commission for this year??s biennial, trades on the power of language through meanings and sounds. Pendleton harnesses the energy of gospel, jazz and pop music along with the style of Southern-style religious services to deliver a compelling sermon to his congregation.
The performance is loosely circular. Pendleton??s speech starts and ends with what sounds like a political statement of defiance ?? a list of things that ???we broke??, and things that ???we freed??. In between he ranges from the publicly polemic ( a tirade against the US administration??s attitude to drugs for HIV/ Aids) to the touchingly private (???my lover often sits on me to get me to eat??). And there are also ???testimonials?? from the poet Jena Osman and the artist Liam Gillick, who join Pendleton from the audience like parishioners sharing their experience in church.
But who is Pendleton preaching to? The church set-up makes the audience feel part of a congregation, but the ???we?? Pendleton speaks about is never explained. When he talks about gay politics is he addressing us as comrades or enemies? He says, ???I prefer gay people, I think we??re better than everyone else??, and it raises a laugh. Are we laughing with him, as he redirects the bigotry of homophobia through a a parody of self-rightousness? Or is he laughing at us, trying to shake the liberal conceit of siding with the oppressed?
What, in fact, is Pendleton??s sermon about? Despite the emotive form, the driving music and the charismatic persona, Pendleton??s language never gets to a ???message??. He repeats phrases and reroutes them, changes round the order of words and switches tone in the midst of an argument. In the end, no argument can emerge. Osman??s and Gillick??s testimonials, meanwhile (the former, about the objectivist poet Charles Raznikoff; the latter, a persuasive speech by a car manufacturer to potential employees) are far from personal. Examples of very different kinds of speaking, they rupture the smoothness of Pendleton??s delivery and draw attention to it. The ???message?? here is rhetoric as practise, to an emotive jazz and gospel score.
plays with the functions of language and text. Without specifying who he is preaching to, what he is preaching about, or even his own point of origin, Pendleton charts a dynamic journey through language and sound that leaves the audience uplifted and asking for more. The gospel singer??s voice finishes the performance just how it began, singing about a new day which, ???brings hope, they say??.
The last part is important. This nameless ???they?? is the authority of language that The Revival
draws on. Mesmerising without being meaningful, The Revival
wallows in the investments made in language ?? its purpose that comes from the people that use it, its authority from the fact of being used. Pendleton weaves together different modes of address to deliver a virtuoso demonstration of language??s power.
11/05/07 03:45:33 pm
Tamy Ben-Tor, Judensau, 2007. Photo courtesy of the artist and Riccardo Crespi Gallery.
Tamy Ben-Tor Judensau
at Salon 94, Nov 4.
Israeli artist Tamy Ben-Tor showed no signs of backing down for her most recent performance series, Judensau
, the literal translation of which is ???Jewish pig,??? at Salon 94. Known for her witty portrayals of cultural consciousness (or the lack thereof), Ben-Tor approaches her latest work with the same joie-de-vivre, a combination of costume, humility and humor delivered in four languages.
Adorned in a blond wig, mustache and slippers, Ben-Tor??s performance began with her depiction of what appeared to be an old Jewish man. For the next few minutes, the artist recited phrases in Yiddish set to a musical score of bodily functions while a clock tower rang faintly in the distance. Her movements read as controlled and deliberate, akin to those of the elderly or a shop-window mannequin, but her monologue, delivered with the understated zest capable only of the passionately senile, moved the audience to both laughter and horror as their ability to escape her pallid gaze was rendered impossible.
For her next act, Ben-Tor donned a large black wig, a unibrow, rotten teeth, a beard and a skirt, as her androgynously provocative character posed the question, ???What is a Jew???? The answer was a lingual stream of consciousness delivered in German to the befuddled amusement of the audience, save for a select few who understood the oration. To this elite group, the performance was not only amusing but hysterical, a testament to the artist??s capacity for exhibitionism.
Ben-Tor consistently turns the comical back in on itself, using humor to critique, comment and criticize culturally accepted attitudes of race and gender. Her delivery is impeccable and her talent for the theatrical unparalleled as was evident in her final acts. For these she assumed the likeness of a homeless Jewish midget, who, in the manner of the illustrious Jewish comedian, Jackie Mason, was determined to ???live among the gentiles??? and a pregnant, one-armed grandmother from the hood, in a satirical conflagration of the ridiculousness of Jewish/American culture. While the grandmother lectured in ebonic eloquence on the precarious state of the contemporary Jew, she left the audience with a somber portent; ???Be careful of that,??? she said, ???be careful.???
11/05/07 03:37:43 pm
'Up on the roof...'
Christian Jankowski Rooftop Routine (2007).
Christian Jankowski Rooftop Routine
at Jankowski??s apartment rooftop, Nov 3.
10am Saturday morning on the rooftop of Christian Jankowski??s apartment is not a commonplace setting for performance. This forms one of the great attractions of the PERFORMA biennial as a whole, dashing around Manhattan island, stepping behind unexpected building facades and into private nooks and crannies, to have them activated fleetingly but memorably by diverse live work. Jankowski??s rooftop is an intimate nook but with extensive vistas of Tribeca and beyond.
Expectancy builds as a crowd gathered outside the door on the street is let through few-by-few to squeeze into the elevator, to then be herded through the apartment and up onto the chilly, blustering and vertiginous rooftop. Up there other rooftops can be seen plentifully; the ready-made stages for the 40-minute unspectacular but adorably edifying hula-hoop performance.
Between 20-30 (by my count) variously dressed, sexed and aged hula-hoopers appear simultaneously, covering rooftops surrounding 360 degrees of the audience??s viewpoint. Some very near, and some staggered to a distance reaching roughly thumbnail size in those perspectival measurements. The hula-hoopers hoop away, and as the duration extends they look vaguely akin to cheap, plastic, gyrating Hawaiian dolls.
Focussing on individual hula-hoopers was a feature of my viewing. The nearest hula-hooper was possibly the least graceful; hip gyrations too wide, the upper body swaying forward and backward at too great a degree and allowing the hoop to drop occasionally. Another, again fairly close, clad in knee high boots, a beret and body-hugging swathes of colour, was clearly the most stylish hooper with an occasional smile to us all. In retrospect I wish I??d had theatre spectacles to further scrutinise the ephemeral community.
The hula-hoopers sprinkled about the panorama were joined occasionally by sleepy neighbours in dressing gowns venturing out to make sense of the surreal rooftop hula-hooping. One unsuspecting nearby neighbour coincidentally began her own hula-hooping morning routine, although backed away shyly when she realised she had an audience.
The story: Jankowski has been spying. Spying on his neighbour, Ling, and her morning hula-hooping routine. The routine that ???has lost Ling 30 pounds??? is a workout, gyrations that build great abdominals and lumbar strength. This was just one of the rumours that circulated around the rooftop audience, along with welcome doughnuts.
Another rumour told that Ling was leading the changing of arm positions that spread throughout the hula-hooping troupe, like beacons alighting or whispers passed round. Watching and willing them on felt like watching a rugby match, without the competition, contact or chauvinism. Largely similar in the bone-chilling spectatorship with it??s sense of solidarity that slowly dissipated as the cold took over, but for the worthy few who remained until Ling took her bow.
Jankowski??s work was slight and humorous, formalising a private occurrence in a public space and gesturally diminishing those definitions. The structure and formulation of the work was wide enough to exemplify many pertinent arguments and assertions. Primarily, it was a happy piece of work, which isn??t good criticism but it felt good.
11/05/07 02:49:34 pm
???The Nightmare of Textures and Their Inevitable Sounds??
Daria Martin, Harpstrings & Lava, 2007. Film production still. Photograph Thierry Bal, courtesy of PERFORMA and Maureen Paley, London.
Daria Martin Harpstrings and Lava
at Tribeca Grand Hotel, Nov 4.
In the spring of 2007, Daria Martin went to Watermill, Long Island, to study her friend??s childhood nightmare. Commissioned by PERFORMA, her residency there was shared with the electric harp virtuoso, Zeena Parkins, and the actor, Nina Fog. Together the three sought to capture the pitiless intimacy particular to live performance through 16 mm film. The result Harpstrings and Lava
(2007) strayed from assumed notions of directing, performing, and viewing by giving special recognition to a fourth participant: the camera. Stylistically redolent of Martin??s earlier work, the camera waltzes through all of Harpstrings and Lava
??s vibrant scenes summoning nascent panic in a cast of static people, both seated and on the screen.
The program started with the two short films that inspired RoseLee Goldberg to commission Martin. Birds
(2001) pans through men and women adorned in plastic and paper costumes sliding around white or flesh-toned glass cases and angular, minimalist constructions. Smiling faintly, the actors are sculpted together in both classical and science-fiction looking poses, handling their surrounds like supports in a Bauhaus playground.
Though no natural elements disturb the vacuous and majestic shelter of In the In The Palace / Wintergarden
(2000), the film starts with the noise of a storm. There is a dark space, silver poles, and dancers clustered inside. Birds chirp over the rain as their bodies become more erotically conjoined and when thunder sounds, the figures face outward. Then they are taught like archers, pulled like bows, static as arrows pre-kinesis, with added poles bisecting in their arms. The film ends with the camera circling figures costumed in flower garlands and sequined headdresses. As frozen as plastic ballerinas rotating in a music box, their fragility may be visible, but will never crack their molding.
Before the film finale, Parkins performed live. Plucked or sliding tones tumbled electronically, dissolving and then floating back in a wash of loops and reverb. She attended to her instrument like an acupuncturist, placing notes carefully until chakras vibrated.
With whipping paper, chiming cymbals, and blocks rubbing abrasively, Harpstrings and Lava
also tracked sounds and their disruption. A woman (Fog) wakes in a wooded, attic-like nest outside a surrealist atrium in which Parkins strums a harp eerily. The areas are connected by a braided and serpentine tree branch. Martin??s camera uses the knobby limb as a symbolic passage between probing the harpist??s delicate gestures and inclosing on Fog??s wobbly internalization of the mystery around her. Fear mounts palpably around textures and their inevitable sounds through mimicking the collision of opposites that woke Martin??s friend from young slumber.
11/05/07 01:44:03 pm
Adam Pendleton, The Revival New York (Hans Peter Feldman), 2007.
Adam Pendleton The Revival
at Stephan Weiss Studio, Nov 1.
The gospel service can??t exist without complete prior agreement about the nature of the image/vision and its truthfulness. You can??t doubt and sing with abandon. The identification, the location of the singer within the image has to be total. There is no room for the distance of irony.
~ John Taggart
Despite the stunningly gorgeous and accomplished Gospel-style of Adam Pendleton??s The Revival
??with preaching by Pendleton himself, full two-bandstand Gospel choir, and three-piece band??perhaps the most striking thing about Pendleton??s work was his original recontextualization of performance models rooted in African-American spirituality and cultural history with texts by ???experimental??? writers such as John Ashbery, Charles Bernstein, Paolo Javier, Jena Osman and Leslie Scalapino.
Historically there has been a disjunct between (mainly) white, ???avant garde??? language experiment and Black arts movements. Books such as Nathaniel Mackey??s Discrepant Engagement
and scholarship by Kamau Braithwaite, Adelaide Morris and Aldon Nielsen have done much recently to reconsider the problem. Likewise an upsurge of radically formal writing by African Americans in the past 30 years have done much to alter the problem by adding new voices to the terrain. Some of these writers include Will Alexander, Tonya Foster, Erica Hunt, C.S. Giscombe, Harryette Mullen, Nathaniel Mackey, Julie Patton, Christopher Stackhouse and Tyrone Williams. In Pendleton??s performance the connections between radical formal experiment and adverse cultural content are not so much explicit, as embodied by an appropriative enunciation of diverse texts.
Such a binary is further complicated by Pendleton??s inclusion of texts from Jesse Jackson??s presidential campaign, whereby Jackson acknowledges and mourns his loss among supporters, and texts by Gay writer and health activist Leonard Kramer. Through the play of these texts and others, but especially those with a specific political occasion such as Jackson??s and Kramer??s, Pendleton tarries in the most literal (and textual) of ways among various conflicted, if not antagonistic, cultural-political identities.
That Pendleton mediates and reinvents Black Christian ???revival??? is as much a throw back to the communal forum that is African-American religious practice, as much as to the tactical experiments of the Language Writing communities of the 70??s through the present. In the writings of Charles Bernstein (whom Pendleton ???lifts???) and Bruce Andrews (who fortuitously was in the audience for Pendleton??s performance) one encounters modes of writing that consistently trouble unified enunciation as it sets different subject positions, speech acts and affective registers against one another to ethical, political and amoral ends. Such modes can be witnessed as early as Bernstein??s mid-70??s chapbooks collected in his book Republics of Reality?? Parsing, Shade, and Poetic Justice
??as well as (in)famously in Andrew??s book I Don??t Have Any Paper So Shut Up
. Before Language Writing one could detect similar tactics in New York School poets such as John Ashbery (also appropriated by Pendleton??s monologue), Barbara Guest and James Schuyler, who interrogated ???lyrical subjectivity??? through similarly appropriative techniques and ironic modes of address.
The recourse to ironic address in Language Writing and the New York School seem a deliberate and strategic wrinkle in the Gospel revival format. Yet I would never call The Revival
strictly ???ironic???. In Pendleton??s negotiation of the various voices and intertexts he weaves within his monologue, ???an uncommon dream of language??, a critical distance from the emotive thrust of Gospel musical accompaniment was always in play. In this provision the performance felt Brechtian at times, as though Pendleton were preventing sympathetic identification from his audience to affect critical distance. Simultaneously, there was something all the more ???moving??? in the play between Pendleton??s ???remix??? and the revival format??as though each complemented one another, or better yet realized the effects of the one through
Such a confusion of effects attests to a larger intention at work in The Revival
. For one of the things that may truly bind an African-African cultural discourse with ongoing Modernist literary experiment is the sense that Transcendence so-called may only emerge in Immanence itself given to ???life??? by embodiment, historical complexity and material interconnectedness. In many of the texts Pendleton ???remixed??? inheres the idea that redemption should not be found in any ???beyond?????a world ???outside??? this one, a transcendental or fundamental Being??so much as in a force that binds any number of individuals existing within a larger ???community??? or multiplicity. So the attention is thrown off ???God??? and ???redemption??? to the difficulties of the ???created???. The following is language I transcribed during the performance:
???it??s almost two years now??? ???the brightness filled??? ???it??s as if the war never happened??? ???not the ghost of the novel??? ???the memories you ground down??? ???the shape of a beautiful table remains??? ???and some day a name day??? ???will go unrecorded???
???it??s almost two years now and your deliverance is right here??? ???and your God betrayed you??? ???no wave of recollection comes gushing back in his love??? ???and your salvation is inside you??? ???and the them was articulated??? ???the brightness filled in??? ???your glory it is inside you??? ???it??s over here??? ???and his salvation is inside you??? ???and I said his glory???
???the them was??? ???the brightness filled in??? ???the war never happened??? ???not??? ???no one who saw me??? ???would ever believe me??? ???in your God???
The immanent tendencies of the revival format binds Pendleton??s The Revival
to 20th Century avant garde language practices and performance insofar as both geneologies would propose an anti-transcendence, or a transcendence that only may occur as a kind of revival through mediation??the mediation of a socius in embodied linguistic fact. ???Our??? deliverance ???is here??? if only because ???we??? are here and ???inside??? at the same time. Against the racist political system of the United States government (which Jackson??s speech presences rhetorically), and the neglect of Queer health issues and emergencies by the same government (which Kramer??s text renders pathetic), Pendleton would finally recognize in the writers he has chosen to lift and in The Revival
??s format a relationship shared by ritualized spirituality (religion), social responsibility and language/expression.
That Pendleton included ???testimonies??? in his performance highlights yet another relationship between language, performance and ethical behavior. Both the visual artist Liam Gillick and poet-scholar Jena Osman provided ???testimony??? interrupting Pendleton??s monologue and the music of The Revival
. Osman??s testimony specifically concerned the poet Charles Reznikoff who in the 30??s wrote two volumes of poems entitled Testimony
by transforming legal transcripts from the 1890??s throughout the 1910??s into verse. In Reznikoff??s poetry all of the language is ???found,??? however in its selection and transformation dramatizes real ethical dilemmas and responsibilities as they are given in
language. A particular phrase Osman quoted from Reznikoff seemed to comment on Pendleton??s own intentions as a language-based performance artist: ???I didn??t invent the world, I felt it???. However ???critical??? or ???analytical??? my experience of The Revival
was and was geared to be, in the end it was all ???felt??? where feeling becomes its own critique. Where beyond critique and
feeling lies the arduous path of meaning itself.
*quotation marks indicate breaks in live transcription.
11/05/07 09:47:48 am
'Review: Marie Cool & Fabio Balducci'
Marie Cool & Fabio Balducci, Untitled, 2004. Courtesy of the artists and PERFORMA.
Marie Cool & Fabio Balducci Untitled (Prayers, 1996-2007)
at The Clocktower Building, Nov 2,
Marie Cool looks like a Renaissance-maybe DaVinci-Madonna with her nearly translucent skin, pale redgold hair, steady blue eyes, ascetically slight frame, and the calm expression she wore throughout Prayers
was curated as part of PERFORMA 07??s Dance After Choreography series. Straight off, being able to see the one thing and reading the other in the programme, myself and the rest of the audience had two sets of concepts to grapple with and to veil our understanding of the performance. How were the small acts prayers (or was she a pray-er) and what is the relationship between this piece and choreography?
One of the gestures Cool repeated a few times was, in fact, to veil herself under a tent of plastic wrap, thin like the stuff used to cover food but large like the plastic cover on a new sofa. She held the plastic above her head on the tips of her fingers, while standing, perilously, on tiptoes. Then she fell to the floor and curled up inside the bubble of plastic that formed around her. Is there any connection between this veil she makes for herself and veiling her acts in concepts while trying to understand them, or is the veil evocative of a veil the Madonna might have worn? Is she making a petition (one definition of prayer is to make a petition) involving one of those materials we use constantly and which will likely exist long past our individual life spans? I sought meaning in this material and this action; is this a prayer to a higher power asking for forgiveness for inventing plastic? Or is it a prayer to the plastic itself, which does have its uses and a certain beauty? It is hard to say what this prayer means; neither my understanding of prayer nor my dance vocabulary have clarified it. But I like art that allows me to make associations and ask questions.
And I think Cool intends this vagueness. Like I wrote earlier, she looks celestial, but she also wore grey sneakers to move around the space (practical and modern things, sneakers) and made other prayers with or to other human-made objects and materials. The best gestures were simple: she holds a white string, lights the other end and lets it hang, flame burning up its length, always at the same distance from the floor (I see a white taper); she holds two earphones and slowly opens and closes her hand to release the sound, which is a song but, I don??t think, a hymn (I think of the rise and fall of voices in a church in common prayer or in song); she moves between each of these in a measured pace and is followed by the audience. We rustle and squeak floorboards and make small noises of approbation or throat clearing. A few people did, not surprisingly, tread on a prop, get in the way of another audience member or make a noise that was a little loud. This was all usual for a performance, or for a church for that matter, and no one was unruly. While some of the audience did indeed come and go (it wasn??t necessary for clarity that you stay for the whole performance) there was a core of us who persisted.
Did persistence reward in this case? The lovely movements were consistently lovely and the obscure ones (one in particular involving a ruler, a pen and branches under a desk-an assembly of small and interesting noises) remained obscure. I did become more aware of the room????a perfect setting with the high ceilings, white walls, grey floor, paint peeling delicately from one radiator and even the extra flight of stairs up in order to even find the gallery. I also came to appreciate Cool??s physical endurance. We got tired and wilted onto the floors while she was as steady from beginning to end. Altogether, yes, persistence was rewarded because I slowed down and took things in, which to me is a characteristic of praying.
Why dance after choreography? The performance was an orchestration of repeated gestures that fit into one another. They were familiar and unfamiliar at the same time; they were lovely and exhibited physical control; they existed when I could assign them words or meaning and were just as nice when I could not. It was a quiet end to a very busy week for me and will likely stay in my mind as a moment of grace.
11/05/07 12:14:11 am
'Marie & the task of suspended time'
Marie Cool & Fabio Balducci, Untitled, 2004. Courtesy of the artists and PERFORMA.
Marie Cool & Fabio Balducci Untitled (Prayers, 1996-2007)
at The Clocktower Building, Nov 2.
Untitled (Prayers, 1996-2007)
is the first of the sequence of events threading through PERFORMA07 under the heading ???Dance after Choreography??. I'm long accustomed to the pushing open of both terms, especially the question of what a dance might look like. Usually the argument runs back and forth between downtown and uptown (though geographically the New York dance world has long been extending itself into the boroughs, dropping codification as it goes). Suffice it to say that many dancers today encounter the Judson generation as the mythical forebears, pedestrianism (and maybe especially the Wittgensteinian strange-magic-of-ordinary-action pedestrianism) an alphabetary more than a new idea.
Ritualistic, simple actions, ordinary materials, gentle but unseductive performance, non-contractual relationship with the spectator, open loft spaces without clear barriers between the space of the performance and the space you have to get in to see it--none of this is new to dance. I like this about the piece. That familiar simplicity functions as a kind of welcome into the world of it. There is nothing grandiose, nothing declarative, and the politics of the thing lie more in audience demographics (perhaps in the ratio of the cost of the collective shoe tab, squeaking over the boards, to the salary of employees stationed along the route from the street to the 13th floor gallery) than the content of the event. I confess that I long ago decided that I only wanted to see the performances of people I thought were nice, and so the unaffected, anti-ego manner of Marie Cool as she performed her tasks (run a finger along a length of tape suspended across the room; place elbow into a tray of folded paper; press sheets of paper together so that they demonstrate the shift from verticality to an arching wave) set me at ease. I was left to evaluate the question, what is it like to be here, in this room?, the fact of being in a room together for me the defining characteristic of performance.
So if performance is to be in a room together, what is dance in this room, what is choreography, what does it mean to be "after" choreography? What I saw was this: dance is doing things; choreography is the parameter of how that doing gets done. It is an approach, an orientation to task as an embodiment of calm, focused self-awareness, slowed down enough to call attention to its own mechanics, performed blankly but not coldly. Perhaps blank is the wrong word? What I mean to say is this: that nothing is telegraphed, that is, this dance is not expressive, and does not ask to be read as a kind of language. "Blank" also is the potentiality of an empty space, a blank page: perhaps her mental and physical discipline is our invitation to find ourselves on the same wire of attention, and so to share in the activity which is, as the blank title tells us, a form of prayer.
My favorite of the events was this: just as I was weary of the sound of my fellow auditors squeaking feet over the floorboards, politely angling for a view as we followed Cool around the room (the self-education/negotiation of the audience was the shadow performance), Cool placed a chair, sat down, and very very low from the corner some music played--was it organ music?--and she held an old atlas in her lap, tracing her finger country to country. This is a theatrical trick--play the music very low so that everyone has to crane to hear it--put to good use in lessening the gap in blood pressure between the beatific Cool and the rest of us. The episode opened up for me, on a day filled with more than ordinary awareness of the lost past, a space that did that thing that performance sometimes can do: collapse into the thin thread of the present the living memory of old time, pushing against clock time and into the paradoxical experience of the presence of the past in the present. Cool & Balducci created this space with minimal rhythm and unspectacular limitation. As such, I think to share in it the audience member has to enter not by entering the room but by accepting the terms. So there is something consensual after all.