Jesse Zaritt on Faye Driscoll’s “You’re Me”

Jesse Zaritt and Faye Driscoll in "You're Me"

Jesse Zaritt and Faye Driscoll in “You’re Me”. Photo by Steven Schreiber.

We pushed our bodies beyond their capacity in every rehearsal, our senses of self were similarly driven far beyond the point of familiarity; I became other to myself.

Faye is fascinated by the relational construction of self, the behavioral adjustments produced in any new interaction.  But there is more to her work than a surface investigation of the continuity of the performative self.  What is at stake in Faye’s work – especially the duet You’re Me – is a question of how far the performance of self can be extended. What kind of radical intervention could break open a space in the social fabric that will give us back some choice, the possibility to be other than who we have been conditioned to be?  What is the impact of enacting this rupture? What if choreographed performance can help us imagine a new field of possibility for self-realization?  What if we don’t know, or can’t even imagine who or what we’d like to become; what choreographic and performative methodologies might help us imagine and then enact extraordinary, unrealized entities?

Faye’s work proposes that it would take heroic acts of abandon, catastrophic physicality, manic/hypertrophic embodiment of gender stereotypes and meticulous structure to achieve transformation (to enact the extraordinary).  You’re Me also demands of its performers a profound and dangerous union; it is from a constantly shifting relationship that the chaos, failure and promise of transformation emerges.

Faye has constructed a ritual of togetherness whose very inscription and repetition in live performance enacts a devastating and exquisite metamorphosis of the performer’s bodies (my self, our selves).  You’re me – this is as much about Faye and I (and now Aaron) as it is about the relationship between audience and performers.  You – the viewers – are us, the performers.  This experiential identification instigates reflection, flux, a disavowal of stasis.

You’re Me is structured to showcase a mosaic of representations of archetypal male, female, and mythic-beast characters.  The level of detail in this choreography is both maddening and extravagant, and the specificity is important.  We try again and again to convince every cell in our bodies that we can be in one moment Adam and Eve, in the next a warrior princess, a baby bird, a wolf-lizard amalgam – It is our failure to perfectly enact these tropes that create a generative friction.  Our imperfection agitates these containers of idealized embodiment we can’t quite fit ourselves inside.  You’re Me ruptures the seams that try to enclose us in the exertion toward perfection, a settled singularity of identification.

Early in our process, Faye expressed a desire for us to look the same at some point in the work.  More than enacting “twins,” she ultimately wanted us to become each other.  It started with the external:  we both wore the same red shorts and blue t-shirts and had on matching shaggy, short, blond wigs.  We named each wig Chad.  We started to improvise.  We weren’t just trying to mirror each other, we were trying to fully become the other person.  Every subtle facial movement or tiny body gesture was instantly perceived, translated into sensation, and then performed back; the performance of our selves began to overlap.  If I started to smile, Faye would instantly smile back at me, her face distorting to match her perception of me smiling.  Immediately upon seeing her face, I would try to smile back at her, becoming a reflection of the distortion of my own smile.  This process of simultaneous, anticipatory and amplified matching was hysterically funny to us.  We danced and babbled and sang and laughed for an hour.  This process became an anchor of our improvisational practice, we named it “chadding.”

Sadly, chadding never made it into the final version of You’re Me, but it encapsulates the yearning for transformation that fuels this work.  Ultimately, Faye and I failed to become each other – but through this relational effort, we each became something, someone else.  Together, we created a different way for both of us to be in the world.  Even though chadding is absurd and fleeting, it offers a real moment of delightful escape, a window into a different self made possible only by the complex interdependency of one person with an other.  And, like all Faye’s choreographic work, it requires an intense discipline and commitment.  The lightness is born out of a deep physical attention, an unswerving empathic sensitivity to the totality of another’s experience.

We all perform.  It’s what we do for each other all the time deliberately or unintentionally.  It’s a way of telling about ourselves in the hope of being recognized as what we’d like to be.

-Richard Avedon

Dancing changes me.  I feel it: my cells re-organizing themselves, tissue tearing and healing – getting stronger or weaker, and at the deepest level – my structure shifting – bones gliding, degrading.  Movement costs the body.

Dancing reminds me that I am never the same.  The body is always in a state of change, but it is a dancing body that highlights, accelerates and marks this constant process in movement.  For me, the affirmation of change through the act of dancing is glorious.  In movement, I am unfixed, always different.  Paradoxically, I feel most like myself when I am moving.  Dance teaches that the me I think I am is not so stable, not so constant.

In Faye’s work the unfixed dancing body meets the radically unstable performative self.  You’re Me proposes a profound relationship between materiality and performativity:  As partners in this creative process, the stakes were high for us.  I pushed my body beyond its capacity in every rehearsal, my sense of self was similarly driven far beyond the point of familiarity; I became other to myself.

Wonderful things happened to me.

I kept expanding.

I demolished walls that kept me from doing things I thought were not possible or allowed.

This is the most power I’ve ever felt in my life: the power to become anything, anyone – and to have – no matter what – the support or better yet the challenge of this other body alongside me – rooting for me, pushing me further.

I was and am desperate for this freedom: I want access to an experiential totality of myself – an immeasurable, gaping, chaotic, ecstatic fullness and emptiness all at once.

We enabled each other.

The end result cost us.

Our bodies: we are instruments at once profoundly, painfully limited and completely unbound.

“You’re Me” is also available in READING – a zine produced by AMERICAN REALNESS 2013. The zine contains critical content relating to every artist presented in the festival, and its authors have diverse relationships to the artists they address. This project aims to make clear the value of as well as the need for this kind of work—supporting artistic production through developing thoughtful commentary.

Select articles from READING will be hosted here on Culturebot, released throughout the festival. Find the complete printed version over at American Realness, available for sale on a sliding scale—true zine/DIY style.