The Month That Was in Dance with Faye Driscoll and Beth Gill
Shown at Danspace Project in mid-March, Faye Driscoll’s Thank You For Coming requires audience preparation; we line our shoes up on the steps and stash our coats and bags on the altar before situating ourselves on the floor (and a few benches) around a raised platform.
We notice the performers (Giulia Carotenuto, Sean Donovan, Alicia Ohs, Brandon Washington, and Nikki Zialcita) when they appear on the balcony and break into a sung version of cell phone reminders and emergency exit instructions (should the air be “consumed by fire”). They reappear on the platform and begin a tense and tangled dance, connected by grasping hands on shoulders, heels on heads, and lips on necks. They collect and unfurl as a mass, climbing over each other and sputtering like a clumsy machine, their heads flicking outward to glower at us salaciously.
The men begin to growl and heave like angry dogs and the women work excruciatingly at the edge of joint capacity; their extremities are pulled apart until ankles rest on shoulders and spines are bent at extreme angles. Eventually they roll slowly off the platform with a thud. Driscoll crawls beneath the platform and begins to dismantle it while the dancers roll into our laps and instruct us to undress and redress them. My friend and I have been asked to hang on to Zialcita’s earrings and sweater, and we help Carotenuto pull up her leggings and sports bra. When they roll away, the platform has been refashioned into seating and we resume our position at the perimeter.
We are purely spectators for the more exuberant next episode — they theatrically greet each other while sneezing and laughing, vibrating as if lit by strobe light. There is a rapid cycling of emotions; lovey-dovey PDA, invasion of space and resulting annoyance, over-animated phoney affection, competitive peacocking, howling laughter, sobbing. They join Michael Kiley (acoustic guitar) in a campfire-style sing-along, the first names of the audience standing in for lyrics.
Like You’re Me, there is an explosion of props as Thank You For Coming hurtles to a close. We are handed costume accessories and asked to hang onto dangling scraps of the coming-apart fabric ceiling as performers wind them around like a maypole. They hand us the hems of their pant legs and crawl toward the center, pants un-bunching from their legs and extending 15 or 20 feet. They are tethered to audience territory but can still get pretty far away from us.
We are sometimes forced, sometimes nudged, and sometimes gently encouraged to participate, but there is a hesitance; do they really need help dressing? Do they really want us to join in? Is our involvement for us or for them? Our names are explicitly used in the soundtrack, but we’re still held at arms length; they don’t know which name belongs to me and I’m still watching from outside of this world. Driscoll’s negotiation of the performer / watcher divide feels carefully considered and provocative. The most memorable aspect of the work is the shaping of the space, how it is manipulated, shrunk, and expanded. Somehow Driscoll turns St. Mark’s into several different venues at once, almost without us realizing.
Beth Gill’s New Work for the Desert at NYLA is a much more subtle / meditative experience. Taking the desert sunrise as jumping-off point, the work comes alive gradually, unfolding at a precise and restrained pace.
Jennifer Lafferty walks in silence, her arms held stiffly behind her like a cactus. She is eventually joined by Marilyn Maywald in a quiet duet. They are deliberate and methodical as if moving through peanut butter. Their gazes never meet and their vocabularies don’t feel connected, but they sync up briefly when they arrive on the same facings. I connect to them most strongly when they connect to each other.
Christiana Axelsen and Kayvon Pourazar’s duet is warmer and more free; they are at ease in their close contact, approaching affection, casually nudging as their limbs and heads swing. Heather Lang and Stuart Singer are like goalposts, maintaining a precise distance and startlingly in sync despite the lack of musical cues and often not being able to see each other. They are machine-like and take up more space; their dance is linear, concerned with planes and floor pattern.
Maywald’s solo is an off-kilter collection of falls and tilts, and seems downright wild next to Lang and Singer’s coolness. At one point she pushes back her hair and collapses in slow motion, a startlingly human moment. This sticks in my mind as the only memorable emotional content and the only identifiable gesture.
The last third of the work becomes spikier and more urgent, with Pourazar bounding and spiralling during a very cleverly engineered trio of near-misses and gentle bumps. Two bodies perform a Cat’s Cradle-like folding and unfolding, and Lang and Singer are dragged offstage to make room for an episode of inventive and emotionless weight-sharing (toes on elbows, heels on throats, chins on smalls of backs). Without Lang and Singer’s space-marking presence, the landscape feels suddenly expansive.
They crawl back from their abandonment, finally close together, breaking their distance. Their heads tip toward the light and they face us as other performers caress their throats and eyes in an eerie / sweet final tableau. Until this point, nothing has been revealed in full, clear light; Thomas Dunn’s lighting begins with pitch dark and builds slowly, moving through a brilliant color spectrum until this final image.
Jon Moniaci’s score is a similar controlled crescendo — it is almost imperceptible when it tips from silence into a very low hum. I’m not sure how much time passed between the first sound and my becoming aware of it. Later, we hear faint crickets, TV static, piano chords, a far-away leafblower, and microphone feedback, to otherworldly, vaguely sci-fi effect.
New Work is controlled and composed like Electric Midwife, but allows a little more fluidity and organic oddness to filter in. Certain episodes almost tip into cold / mechanical, but when it softens into a human realm we really feel it. Trisha Brown (a cited inspiration) -esque attention is paid to the spine and the freedom of the limbs, but it doesn’t feel like a pursuit of “pure movement” or a “neutral body.” These bodies seem allowed to carry a little more history and complexity.