Early on in the festival…seems like weeks ago, there were two acts that took the audience into the palm of their hand and held us there like babes in a cornfield. Last night another legend of the cutting edge, Deborah Hay, brought a powerful, sublime dancework that draws energy from her young Seattle choreographic collaborators. Going to prove that those who have been working the longest in pushing boundaries, remain the most progressive and truly daring.
To help kick off T:BA, Laurie Anderson brought a solo show into the home of all things tradtiional and boring…the Newmark theatre. She has been making poetics, sound art, film and a deep trances on stage for nearly 3 decades, and this mastery was clear from the moment her gentle voice took time to slowly fill the echoes of music that hung over her star-like floating set. She had no doubts or worries in addressing head on the terrors and sadness of living in an America led by the current semi-fascist regime, in fact you got the feeling she’d lived through it before…because she had, with Reagan, and that made her more succinct and more outraged, and more empathetic in her critique and commentary. Laurie was able to pull feeling from her violin, from her stories and out of the audience in an authentic, unforced way that has missing among some of the more aggressive T:BA acts, or those that might feel that genuine, deep feeling is something not hip or contemporary.
Kiki and Herb also have been working the stage for decades, not quite as long, though they do claim to have been around since the day they sipped milk from a cow that ate Christ’s afterbirth. The two performers walk a fine line between bitter satire and truly heartbreaking depth of emotion…and blend their political commentary and rage at the current social order into a complicated character work that has people laughing in a conflicted, sexy, outrageous way. The urge to wish the worst upon our current leader is deep in them, the wisdom to do so in so unexpected and sideways a manner is a sign of their genius and lack of need to prove themselves as a young, hip performance team. Kiki held us, held the audience, made us cheer and cheer as false rhinestones beneath her eyes twinkled fake tears and she sang with breathtaking beauty a ridiculous song about reuniting with her daughter in a grocery store. Cutting edge? Absolutely.
Last night was Deborah Hay’s premiere of Mountain, a new work based on her growing fascination with taking the power and unique spirit of dancer/choreographers and adapting their work through her filter. The elegance and spareness of her work was stunning. Earlier in the week we’d seen migrating birds portrayed in a blunt, and obvious manner, with a clumsy desperation. Deborah took for granted that audiences are profoundly able to focus and quite themselves to look quietly and deeply at work that is worth this attention. In one disturbingly funny moment a bullish woman pummels another dancer, a cartoonish dance that was in no way over the top, but still odd to find ourselves enjoying the slaughter. In another moment, a woman dances with a quiet desperation, signaling to us as a song, delicate and fraying is pulled from her on a bare stage, time unrushed.
Is there something to be said for an artform, a genre (contemporary performance) that allows its masters to grow old gracefully? Hell yes, but also, let’s offer a wonderful shout of joy for those artists who keep pushing, keep moving forward, and relax into total trust for their powers to hold ideas and visions up to the light, and expect the most from the audience, and allow ourselves to stretch and pull, and laugh and cry, with genuine new passion.
by Jonathan Walters