Realness Roundup: Consent and Collision

A Sunday marathon at American Realness instigated thoughts about consent, the public sphere and collisions among artists. The refined schedule and pace of Ben Pryor’s festival feels welcomingly more spacious and navigable than last year. Spending the day with Jack Ferver, Maria Hassabi, Keith Hennessey’s crew, AUNTS and the Bureau for the Future of Choreography, the events at Abrons Art Center include both staged and unintended realness.

Jack Ferver knows his audience, smartly performing an inflated artist ego in a self-reflexive question and answer session for Mon Ma Mes, inserting an Yvonne Rainer joke here, nonchalantly referring to prestigious residencies and also playfully mocking the APAP crowd. Deadpan Michelle Mola circulates through the audience with a microphone and planted questions, which prompt Ferver to discuss himself. His calculated timing and delivery brilliantly frame the more vulnerable segments to follow. Progressing from the question and answer structure, Ferver performs a dance solo with spoking and circling arms and then alternating jogs as if exercising on a Nordic Track. He dramatically darts his focus to the audience exuding a presentational charisma. During the following vignettes in which Ferver reveals additional narrative and is carried and sung to by Reid Barteime, the performance evolves into earnest and human territory. As the first section offers an exaggerated dog and pony show, the second reveals a confessional nature. Therefore, when Ferver repeats his initial solo a second time, it is loaded with an awareness of his expressed loneliness, control and sexual encounters. The second reception is deeply felt and sympathetic, driving Ferver’s performance as a highlight of the festival thus far.

During Show, after about ten minutes of audience banter in the Underground Theater, much of the crowd settles on the floor as the artists enter, walking down the stairs with a quiet, charged presence. Talking in the room fades as Maria Hassabi and Hristoula Harakas lock eyes – first on each other and then on the eyes of audience members – and assume transitional positions for extended holds, seemingly a strain of endurance. Limbs quiver. Never a resting place for these bodies. They shift to new positions on the floor similar, yet less comfortable, than the audience’s seated postures. They move, deliberate and sculptural in close proximity to each other. What initially felt ambiguously tender and confrontational in their gazes, transitions to read somewhat more aggressively when the soundscape shifts to the familiar hum of voices.

Might you be alarmed if you noticed one of your recent conversations was recorded without your consent and then replayed to a room full of festival attendees during a performance? That’s exactly what occurred on Sunday during the performance of Show. While Alex Waterman’s soundscape consisted of the sounds of many people gathered together, my colleague could clearly identify her own voice and I wondered if I might distinguish mine as well. What had I been saying? I found myself paranoid by this element of surveillence. The audio evesdropping drew the performance toward the manipulative rather than one of union and compassion, which I had experienced last time I saw Hassabi in Robert and Maria during Danspace’s Platform Series. When Hassabi did focus her eyes on mine toward the conclusion of the performance at American Realness, I did experience an intensely calm and trusting moment, however the tension between that and the earlier paranoia left me conflicted about the intentions of Show, permission to be recorded and thoughts about private conversations conducted in the public sphere.

Having seen Keith Hennessey’s Turbulence in Portland and San Francisco, I wasn’t planning to attend again, however when performer Laura Arrington carried me into the Experimental Theater, I was glad to be there and see yet another version – this one the most serious I’d experienced and in a more intimate space than previous iterations. A while earlier I had noticed Julie Phelps and Emily Leap wandering the hallways of Abrons in their gold hoods from the performance and didn’t think much of the particularly uncontained Turbulence bleeding into the lobby, however when the pair entered the Playhouse where the house was opening simultaneously for Trajal Harrell’s Twenty Looks, a collision occurred that could have only happened in such a festival setting with multiple performances.

According to Phelps who discussed the encounter as part of Turbulence, Harrell firmly sent she and Leap out of his performance space. Talking into the microphone, Hennessey also commented on the incident during his performance, noting that Harrell’s confrontation had influenced the evening. While apparently unpleasant for all parties involved and as much as playing nice in the sandbox should be part of the festival environment, these simultaneous contemporary art events, involving fuzzy edges and considerations surrounding where and when the performance ends, as well as who is performing, make for an alive and loaded festival environment with loose boundaries and a multitude of possibilities.

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