Dancing without Soft Pants

It’s been a year since Jenny Seastone Stern started her bi-monthly (which means every other month, not twice a month, for all you idiots like me out there) emerging artist dance/performance series. I’m a little embarrassed to admit that this one, Catch 6 (as in the 6th one), was the first one I’ve been to. Housed in the Williamsburg institution, Galapagos, whose sunken pool entryway impressed me to no end when I was taken there fresh off the boat in 1998 by some very with-it Nebraskans, the work up for viewing mirrored the defining feature of the space: a little bit hip, a little bit shallow, a little bit unexpected, and massively reflective.

More and more it seems, art is in the eye of the beholder. If you like someone, if you like watching them, you’ll probably like their five minute piece—guffawing at the flimsiest of premises, reveling in the guerrilla feeling of it all. The more you’ve studied performance, the more meaning you can assign to things as you effortlessly flip through your mental checklist of Things You Are Supposed to Notice and Get a Kick Out Of (Fucking With Form? Check. Fucking With Expectations? Check. Properly Irreverent and Critical of Serious People? Check.) Meaning is meaningless because anything can have meaning, in the Buddhist sense of “There is no difference between me and this table, me and these scissors, me and my mother.” All is interchangeable, and the only thing to judge on is the hipness quotient of the audience, how much they “get it.” Can they chuckle and be in on the joke?

In that light, the inherent quality and virtuosity of the work presented was refreshing. All was flawlessly executed—Jenny Seastone Stern and her first time co-curator, Andrew Dinwiddie, assembled a group of interesting, eclectic artists with something for everyone. Interested in serious, body twisting modern dance to New Age-y music? Got it. Ironic, tongue-in-cheek “boy-theater”? Got it. Hot girls being naughty/funny in small outfits? Got it.

Let’s recap the evening, a social event as much as an artistic one. Everywhere young artists, emerging and otherwise, schmoozed with people they’d worked with, slept with, feuded with, gotten high with, had crushes on, and “seen around.” First up, after a quick introduction for Jenny and Andrew in front of a sparkly curtain (a very nice touch) was A Sub Tout—accompanied in the program by a little poem of sorts (a sub tout is a two lady/a sub tout is two ladies/a sub tout loves organic crop/a sub tout was a sweat shop, etc.) Two girls in pastel 70’s bridesmaid/rural prom dresses singing electronic music about fucking sheep and killing unicorns. Little songs delivered with girlish irony—if Drew Barrymore were kidding when she talked about loving flowers and sunshine—that’s what it sounded like.

Next up we had Cate Hirst, the lone figure in soft pants, thus effectively nulling my title for this piece, dancing and talking about broken hearts and string theory. We even received a syllabus to accompany her mini-physics lecture, of which I have to admit I read only three sentences, just like in real life. Her parents were sitting in front of me and they looked very proud. If my kid understood enough about string theory to explain it to a bunch of people drinking imported beer out of skinny glasses, I’d be proud too.

Ryan Bronz, the arbiter of what I think of as “boy-theater” did some really good, really male stuff—a couple of sports-themed pieces, where he skied convincingly on a pile of white cotton sheeting, complete with spandex body suit and all other necessary equipment, and a bunch of football players enacted a slow motion play to “Moon River”, thus illuminating the softer side of a sport that, in Nebraska at least, has the power to cleave families and destroy lives.

Erica Rebollar is a very beautiful dancer who did some very difficult looking dances to music that sounded a little like what they play in the background at The Nature Company to get you in the mood to buy Amazonian rain sticks and hand puppets shaped like obscure insects.

A short and welcome repose from all the live stuff was Carmine Covelli’s clever and extremely touching short film “Run” where a guy (Carmine himself) runs cross–country to meet a girl from whom he received a panicked phone call. A heart-warming testament to both the power and futility of love and a great way to see America! (I should write press releases!)

Chris Yon’s piece where four people wore sunglasses, held a bunch of grapes in one hand and held lit cigarettes in their mouths (which seemed subversive enough – all I could think was “oh my god, they can do that? They’re letting them do that?) That was all they did. While “You Are the Sunshine of My Life” played.

It seemed to fit very neatly into a category I thought of the other day, “exclusionary kitsch.” Kitsch in its purest form, according to Clement Greenberg, produces feeling of easy, simple satisfaction from its audience—an audience who generally believes the sole purpose of art is to make things prettier or more pleasant. This theory, when applied to the hipster crowd, denotes that the purpose of art should be “irony” or a sense of “oh, I get it.” The outcome, although slightly different theoretically, produces the same sense of general well-being and comfort in its intended viewer. A piece of art with a kitten is either “adorable” or “ironic” depending on whether you are my grandma or a person who lives around Bedford Ave. That’s what I thought of watching this—but, I could also take the stick out of my ass and say it was kind of funny. Which it was. Kind of funny.

Normandy Sherwood and Jessie Hawley (accompanied by Aimee McCormick and Young Jean Lee) did a satire of burlesque with doll-like make-up and headdresses that looked like they stole flowers off a grave and strapped them to their heads. Having watched a bunch of burlesque the night before and, honestly, being a little disillusioned with the whole thing (is shaking your boobs “smart” if it’s “retro”?) I was appreciative.

All in all, it was a good evening. Short acts and all of them memorable—you really can’t go wrong. Jenny and Andrew bantered charmingly in between sets, and it was exactly as it should be—a safe place for emerging artists to do some interesting stuff for an appreciative audience. We need more of that—more space to fail, to fuck around, to get ready for the big stuff. Like an excellent compilation CD, or a really good salad bar—lots of little tastes of stuff you might want more of when you’re in the mood.

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