Another 37 Reasons to Cry sounds like a Buzzfeed article, the reduction of cathartic empathy into a catalogue of distracting tid-bits. That is a conscious decision, I’m sure.
This is a Warholian production. I find it hard to let go of this reference, to see the work without imagining its relationship to Warhol.
This performance is at JACK performance space: crumpled silver foil all over the walls. Well, that’s Warholian.
(This is the obvious way to structure this response. Both Warhol and Buzzfeed would be happy about pursuing an obvious choice, I think.)
Raja Feather Kelly chooses several audience members to stand on stage pre-show. They tentatively oblige. Each holds a handheld confetti canon, which will be fired on cue. I am given a small zip-lock sandwich bag with the silver confetti leftovers.
A projection screen crawls down the back wall, mechanically grunting through the silence. A desktop display appears. A Google-search for ‘Blind Disabled girl sings National Anthem – YouTube.’
Kelly is speaking specifically of a “nightmarish end to the American dream”, rife with disappointment and sorrow. 37 reasons for America to cry.
We watch the video. The emotionality of this young girl’s amazing performance is diminished by the expectation, upon seeing the video’s title, that this will be moving. Here’s a reason to cry, so go on.
As ‘and the home of the brave’ is belted over the video applause, the confetti canons shower the stage with silver. I empty my zip-lock bag somewhat pathetically.
In the program, the artist’s biographies have all been replaced with other people’s tragic lives and deaths. Collin Ranf (performer) was a sweet-natured boy from Butte, Montana who died on the playground after being shot in the head by a fellow classmate. The shooter was upset about being teased for having parents with AIDS and fired a pistol three times. Ranf was standing next to the intended target and about 10 feet from the shooter. He was 11 years old. #jeremybullock. Initially I think this is funny and clever. The more I read, I’m taken by how deeply sad these stories are, and how much sadder that it’s now all just material to be repurposed.
The nine performers enter in single file, dressed in funerary blacks. They begin a yoga class, led by a bodiless voice recording. “Now just feel the weight of the world on your back as you bend forward. And just let go of all thoughts because your life is meaningless.”
This one piece of cynical humor stands alone, surprising given Kelly’s sharp wit when off stage. If the hyper-emotionality that follows is in any way ironic, it’s up to the audience to view it as such, because it’s performed with earnest conviction.
This piece is in four parts, as Kelly calls out their sequence during the performance.
From here, my recounting is mostly out of order.
It’s frustrating that so much of dance can be summed up with phrases as banal as “running and stomping their feet”. But that really does make up a lot of Another 37 Reasons to Cry.
The nine dancers “run and stomp their feet”, dodging each other in their endless looping pathways, keeping count in audible whispers. Their running is an outlet for rage.
Frustration is expressed on cue to counts. Scream together on 8. Stomp louder for 6. Cry out ‘HELP!’ on 1, once you’ve pulled down your pants.
Photo by Epfalck
Amongst the uniform running, vignettes emerge, portrayed with equal ecstasy and mundanity. One performer simulates an orgasm while the others cheer him on. Then they all wait in line for the bathroom.
All these moments are underscored with the continuous stomping. Everything equalised by monotony.
There’s a fight scene: something like a man getting kicked out of a bar for sexually assaulting a woman, everyone shouting. The woman screams something like ‘Get your fucking hands off me!!’ as dramatically as possible. Next.
One dancer spits in his hand and slaps it into the back of another’s head. Next.
A woman is carried by a man, her crotch in his face. He is running blind while she is holding on precariously. Next.
Photo by Epfalck
Then phrases of movement interweaving in unison partnerships become liturgical. Their frustration gives way to expressive gentleness and a yearning aesthetic momentum.
The lights cut to black, and the performers continue to run and dodge each other in the dark. It feels dangerous, but there’s really nowhere for anyone to go. Whether they collide or not is ultimately inconsequential.
The dancers all have beautifully fit dancer-bodies. Sometimes they get partially naked, sometimes fully. I think about sex. But this is more a reaction to the innate sexuality in their fitness. It’s not personally erotic.
The structure repeats itself. The orgasm is simulated again, they line up for the bathroom again, she shouts ‘Get your fucking hands off me!!’ again, they scream on the 8 again. Again, and then again.
The music is consistently emotive; a movie soundtrack and a religious chorus. It blankets the whole piece, so heavy-handed to become meaningless.
Who are these people in front of me? Their identities have already been disguised in the program. And they perform as a mass, trapped in an inane repetition together, expressing heightened emotional states with mechanical uniformity, making it strangely unpersonal. My watching is coolly distant.
I wish I could cry about this.
An interview with composer Angelo Badalamenti, long-term collaborator of David Lynch, as he describes composing the signature music for the series Twin Peaks comes out of left field. This borrowed point of empathetic reference mostly reminds me of how much I enjoyed the Twin Peaks soundtrack.
The performers all shoot each other with toy guns, the last one left standing commits suicide, as dramatically as possible. The music is ever relentless.
A photographer captures the action, walking on stage among the distressed figures, unmoved but motivated by the scene. Everything must be documented.
I can’t let go of the Warhol reference. Is that why the repetition, the diluting of mass expression, the collage of the everyday with the devastating? Why not a Kelly original?
The piece ends with a golf-swing. A dancer mimes the action to the sound of the swish. Then blackout. I think of George W. Bush saying ‘Now watch this drive’. But I really have no idea about this final image. Another grab-bag fragment of the everyday. An absolution to the 90 minutes of angst and ecstasy.
I feel blankly disoriented and I think that’s the point. All this trauma left very little trace.
At what point does all this emotion, rendered meaningless through repetition, penetrate me? Or is this a reminder that apathy is a defining feature of our time? As if I need reminding.
A = Warhol. B = somebody else. ‘B: I wanted to make a film that showed how sad and lyrical it is for those two old ladies to be living in those rooms full of newspapers and cats. A: You shouldn’t make it sad. You should just say, “This is how people today are doing things.”’