Olive Bieringa’s “action movie” @ Vital Matters

Photo credit: Sean Smuda

On October 21, 2016, I attended action movie by Olive Bieringa in the Vital Matters Dance Festival, held at the Southern Theater in Minneapolis, MN. This four-day festival was important in centrally locating the body and its felt experience. I found depth and renewal in the works I experienced there.

Very few performances make the present so vivid and felt as Olive Bieringa’s action movie.  A simple proposal of being guided with your eyes closed became a profound experience of my body and senses, located and dislocated in a sensuous, outdoor municipal adventure. Embodied cinema. As the guide and performer, Olive created scenes on the spot, improvising with skill and risk in the found terrain. Her performance was brilliant and relaxed and generous, as she provided and framed the cinematic experiences for me, editing the “movie” on the spot.

With the only instruction being to open or close my eyes when directed (a common trust exercise which became something larger and exciting in this context) I was guided with my eyes closed from the theater lobby out into the cityscape around the theater for a twenty minute “film.”  This film was all in first person, including the performer and the watcher as the only two characters (simultaneous differing viewpoints). They were partners in an experiential filming complete with close ups, long shots, and a soundtrack that John Cage would envy. I thought of found footage (better than The Blair Witch Project), or collage film, or Andre Breton who would travel from one movie theater to another without staying for an entire film.

At times I was led by the arm, or my hand on Olive’s shoulder or by the end, our arms around each other’s waists, and then intermittently left alone with my eyes closed until I heard “open” at which point a surprise performance would take place.  Every new scene became a revelation through the framing that Olive offered in the moment.  The mundane became sublime.  The footage was raw and edited in real time. I felt I was co-constructing the images. Yes, death to the author, but here you have to trust the filmmaker in order to feel the film.

Following are some highlights, but not spoilers, as the film is never the same twice and exists for only one “viewer” at a time. Olive gently tilted my head down and said, “Open.”  I saw an indented circle the size of a dessert plate on the sidewalk filled with small delicate yellow leaves.  A body in an orange-red jacket entered the frame below as Olive slid on the ground slowly from behind me up to the circle and gently blew the leaves into motion. It took my breath away!

In the unfolding adventure, my senses were alive: traffic, wind, damp soil, bus exhaust. The rough thick twig in my hand became a divining rod or a railing with no attachment. I saw at a distance Olive disappear under a parked pickup truck, and then slide out and all the way across the street on her back. A pedestrian walked through, seemingly headed for the sky and unaware of the body, supine and sidewinding in the street. Through a vine-covered fence, I found Olive navigating: rising and falling off and on benches in an empty baseball field I never knew was there. She uprighted a trashcan and threw some trash away.

I found myself in the middle of rushing traffic on a median strip, Olive running backwards as the sides of her body appeared alternately in my scope from behind a metal light pole in the center of my vision. Opening my eyes to this scene was exhilarating. How did we get here? I saw a fleeting field of golden flowers (Olive had quickened the pace and the interval of eyes open and closed). I was sure that I heard Mendelssohn in the background, image and memory colliding with the film Elvira Madigan. With my hand on her shoulder, Olive moved her arms vigorously. The sound of her breath provided an ocean for the dolphin I was moving with as I rode her scapula. These are a few of the multiple powerful moments in this sense-surround film.

The body in present time is action movie’s bold revelation. The delight and play and art of serious improvisation holds the piece together, as well as the willingness to be that close to another human being as you experience a new world. This was one of my most profound performance experiences ever. I recommend this titillating new movie by Olive Bierenga (and you). There may not be popcorn (this time) but there is plenty of room for your body.

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