Scott Heron & Hijack Dance's Smithsoniansmith at Dixon Place
There’s a sequence about two-thirds of the way through Smithsoniansmith, the dance piece by Scott Heron and Hijack Dance that finishes its run at Dixon Place’s Hot! Festival this weekend (Thurs.-Sat., tickets $10 advance), that captures the way this trio explores movement. Dancer Arwen Wilder walks up to the free-standing set door positioned center-stage, opens it, walks through, and at just the moment she slams it shut behind her is shoved back through it by Kristin van Loon. Then she repeats. Through the door, slam, forcibly repulsed. This happens about five times in a row as Heron performs a loose solo, until van Loon and Wilder join him for a coordinated phrase, and then the entire process repeats.
A lot of hay has been made already about Smithsoniansmith‘s visuals–the denim (there’s more denim in the show than in the line waiting to get into a Boss concert), the trash aesthetic, the seeming bewildering succession of scenes that vary from the opening where a nude Heron wearing baseball gloves on both hands is decorated by one of his co-performers, to a comic send-up of a sort of prelapsarian idyll, to constructing a shopping cart jalopy only to send it crashing (literally) into the audience. But at heart, this is a dance piece developed by three artists with a strong choreographic vision and performed with balls-to-the-walls energy: it’s rough, visceral, doesn’t belabor technique, and keeps the audience thoroughly entertained throughout the roughly hour-long performance.
Thematically, smithsoniansmith was built out to explore the rather abstract concept of recontextualization. The piece was developed through an exploratory process which included taking the stage directions from a pair of plays by Genet and Shepherd, as well as exploring an interest in the use of garbage in visual art (the artists specifically reference unMonumental, the New Museum show from late 2007, as an influence).
The visuals are powerful, and the artists clearly love to play. Simple props, like used tin cans, will be purposed and re-purposed and (in a rather literal image) recycled for yet other purposes. But the artists don’t limit themselves just to the visual palette. A lot of the show they perform in heavy shoes, which adds a hard percussive element to the work, reinforced by the slamming of the door at various points throughout.
But for all that, it’s in the movement that the artists really shine in much more subtle, thoughtful ways. Parts can be rough–the trio takes turns throwing one another off a pile of blue jeans, fighting to be king of the denim mountain, and at one point, Heron goes down with the door on top of him. Like I said, the movement is frequently loose and informal, but it’s still controlled and highly expressive, and frequently laugh-out-loud funny. All three artists have a history of coming at dance and exploring non-traditional movement, Heron having spent a couple decades working with Deborah Hay and van Loon and Wilder—based in Minneapolis—have collaborated with Morgan Thorson in the past.