Maree Remalia & Abby Zbikowski (Bebe Miller’s Double Plus at Gibney Dance)
Bebe Miller curated the final program for the Agnes Varis Performing Arts Center’s inaugural season at Gibney Dance’s 280 Broadway location last month. This fall, Craig Peterson approached his new role as Gibney’s Director of Programs and Presentation, in which he is responsible for “developing and implementing the curatorial vision” for their black box and studio theaters, as well as a creative laboratory, by outsourcing the initial curatorial responsibilities to 6 veteran artists. Annie-B Parson, Roseanne Spradlin, Miguel Guitterez, Donna Uchizono, Jon Kinzel, and Bebe were each charged with bringing two emerging or under-exposed artists to a split bill at Gibney for the Double Plus Series in a savvy and considered effort to expand upon the artist-as-curator model and to diversify the artistic palette.
I appreciate Peterson’s savvy and timely alignment with the movement to diversify the pool of gatekeepers. As Miller states, “My career ‘came of age’ during a time when presenters did the finger-pointing and steering. It goes without saying that artists have different agendas, perceptions, and choice-making strategies.” So, while Peterson may have dug his curatorial team from the roots of a “once upon a time” (aka DTW-friendly?) downtown scene, these artists have cultivated and reached out into the diaspora to bring something fertile back to the field. In particular, Miller expanded the geographic reach by curating in two non-New York artists. As a professor at Ohio State University, she knew both Maree ReMalia and Abby Zbikowski while they were MFA students. ReMalia is now based in Washington DC and working with Pittsburgh artists, while Zbikowksi is hanging with all the cool kids at the University of Illinois.
ReMalia’s performers Taylor Knight and Anna Thompson are part of a sound/performance duo called slowdanger. In “Now is Now” she has them jumping rapidly from moment to moment, expressing a curiosity about the multiplicity inside any single instant. The resulting work is a rapidly shifting series of ideas. The second an idea approaches full definition the dancers bound off to a new one. Thompson congeals in the final moments of the work as she stands at a microphone, subtly shifting her hips and torso while slowly pulling her hair up over her head and singing. It’s dreamy, sexy, and unreal. As her hair rises up, she starts to look like an anime heroine, all aglow and compelling. Zbikowski’s “Destabilizer” performers, Fiona Lundie and Jennifer Meckley are forceful, almost brutal in their attack of the movement. It’s very Streb-like aesthetic. Action, punch, stamina…aggregating fatigue into a kind of ecstatic power. And, with Lundie’s experience as one of Streb’s Action Engineers, the lineage is present. The two begin their duet by placing their booted feet sole-to-sole and duct taping themselves together there. As they move through a series of gasp inducing, athletic tasks the effort is audible in their labored breathing and crashes to the floor. The exertion and the synching of their movement blend with intermittent bursts of punk rock, costume changes and the sight of their taut musculature to create a potent glimpse at the strength (and grace) required to negotiate instability.
The primary question still resonating in my head afterwards is about whether this represents a regional or generational relationship to attention. Both artists seem to move quickly through their ideas. There is an underlying focus on presenting the physical tasks rapidly and without apparent relational concern to what happens before or after. For ReMalia, the concern of the present moment seems to necessitate this idea and for Zbikowski, the idea of destabilizing establishes the need for constant powerful shifts. In both, there is a unrelenting drive to keep things moving, not to necessarily accumulate or flow, but simply the need to continue on.