American Ghoul at Suite/SPACE 2022

American Ghoul at Suite/SPACE 2022
December 10, 2022

created by: Shantelle Courvoisier Jackson and loveconductors
performed by: Madeline Warriner, Light McAuliffe, Samantha Lysaght, Shiloh Hodges, Ube Halaya, Maestro Flux, and Justin Faircloth
music by: Madam Data, slowdanger, maestro flux, and SCJ

Multiverses (and metaverses, but that’s a different thing entirely) dominate the popular imagination these days. Think Everything Everywhere All at Once, or NK Jemisin’s science fiction novels. During an interview with Ezra Klein, Jemisin explains why we’re so hooked on the idea that the universe is more than itself: she says that the phenomenon hinges on possibilities, lives not yet lived, parallels to the reality we only think we know. Surely this realm of thought dovetails with the dismantling of binaries, gender roles, familial and authority structures; surely, the metaverse corresponds to the revisions we’ve been making to our previously-held narratives about history and culture. We’ve turned to our own past and seen it as plural, teeming, multiple. Not one Past, but a host of pasts; not one History but a multitude of histories, all interlocking and complex. Multiverses couldn’t be so far off of what we’re already experiencing.

I started connecting multiverses with Courvoisier’s work only after reading “The City We Became” by NK Jemisin during the long stretch of time before the new year and after the holidays proper. The performance glowed in the back of my mind in the same way the novel did, went into the same deep rooms of time, produced a similar textured temporal experience. So I’ll take you back there.

Enter the narrow theater at the top floor of PS 122 on First Avenue. It’s dark, a black box, but figures emerge in evocative poses. They move slightly, as if underwater. A seascape, a terrarium, a diorama. A low droning backbeat hushes through the speakers in a hostile lull. The theater, dark, is charged with potential energy.

Multiverses operate alongside our own, and many scientists and philosophers and comic book creators have said lots of high-grade stuff about the logistics of how they work. It’s the crossover I’m interested in here: the sensation of deja vu, the shadow tracing the dancing body in the foreground, the mirror image moving on its own.

Each performer moves as if on a mission: though costumed differently and equipped with individual vocabularies, the characters function as discrete parts of a larger whole. Hodges, wrapped in an elegant ruff of tulle, and Halaya, trailing auburn tresses, frame the ensemble with overwrought gestures and larger-than-life expressions. The two, like Pierrot and Columbine in commedia dell’arte, comment mutely on the other dancers’ trajectories and seem to internalize the emotions of the group. Halaya descends the stairs beside the audience clutching a divining rod or hanging mobile made of dangling keys suspended from a clothes hanger, smiling softly. Hodges bows and turns, weaving through the action with mouth agape and eyes wide.

The other performers represent abstractions in their own right. Warriner drags a hefty rope, bent low and contorted into powerful weighty movements, like the Minotaur through the labyrinth. Faircloth finds teetering equilibrium, grounding the space in sudden stillnesses. Lysaght treads the stage, bridelike and mournful, clutching a bouquet. McAuliffe jerks and bobs, threading complex rhythms into Faircloth’s balancing act. And behind them all, Courvoisier lurks and lunges, throwing hands and elbows into defiant shapes.

Throughout the work, the brooding soundscape pulses and churns, doubling the temporal dissonance. Time stands still in the drone, until the dancers begin vocalizing. A chanting whisper here, a hum in the corner— then, a scream.

At the heart of the work there’s a ghost— or rather, a ghoul. Ghouls. Phantom presences yawning between strange and familiar. Multiverses also make hauntings: the ghouls are close to the surface, merging and meeting the edges, breaking and entering. Who is the ghoul here; where does one world end and the other begin? What’s underneath? It’s no surprise that Jemisin’s work comes so close to Courvoisier’s. Courvoisier reckons with the buried things beneath our collective feet and the worlds we make and unmake atop that shared humus.

At the heart of the work there is a painting. At the heart of the work there’s a painting in a chamber made of soft white fabric, a painting made by Courvoisier as the dancers move through the second half of the work. The painting is a sort of echo or imprint. We don’t see it until the dancers have left the space.

In one universe, the dancers lie on the ground. In another, they scribe the space in a marching circle, footfalls in perfect unison. In another, they wrestle and watch and pray their separate whispered prayers. In yet another, only Courvoisier is left, painting the center of a black hole.

I would leave you with a neat ending, a resolute statement about what it all meant. But that would tidy up the mess left by American Ghoul. Something was exhumed on the stage that night— what it was still haunts me.


Photographer: Rachel Keane

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