09.12.08 at Lincoln Hall Auditorium
2008 Time-Based Art Festival, PICA
Photo by Patrick Sullivan
All Rights Reserved, PICA
Posted by Dusty Hoesly
Superamas are all about desire: desire for sex, for story, for phenomenal performance. They quote French philosopher Jacques Derrida on the subject towards the end of the show. Desire only functions when the desirer never achieves the object of desire. As soon as the object is attained, desire is over. This death of desire often results in dissatisfaction; we don’t get what we thought we were going to get, perhaps due to putting the object of desire on a pedestal (overvaluing it). In BIG 3rd Episode (happy/end), Superamas delay the objects of desire even to the point of irresolution, and yet deliver a hysterical, provocative spectacle sure to please crowds and aesthetes alike.
The stage is a multimedia marvel: to the left, a recording studio (drums, guitars, etc.); in the middle, a platform stage with bright strobe lights (like at a fancy dance club); to the right, a dressing room (with an elliptical machine). A projection screen hangs over the left of the stage, where scripted videos and text appear occasionally. Professional photography lights stand all over the stage. Here we have theatre, dance, music, video, photography, and text in a total performance. The women are all beautiful and the men are very handsome; all are multi-talented performers. The soundtrack includes joyful hits like Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy,” R.E.M.’s “Shiny Happy People,” and The Jackson 5′s “I Want You Back.” The authors reference and steal clips from Zorba the Greek, Milan Kundera, Jacques Derrida, “Sex in the City,” among others. How many stage spectaculars come complete with credits rolling at the end?
The performance is also marked by harsh juxtapositions: a sweet love ballad that transitions into a loud cover of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” a projected car crash scene (from Adaptationand then Mulholland Drive) that we hear but do not see (although lights flashing onstage recreate what would be happening in the films), an extremely bright strobe show with two women dancing ostensibly in competition or flirtation with each other amongst a throng of girls, a video of Superamas practicing dance then advertising Trumper Pils, a video depicting a supposedly-erotic couples retreat where the women wear cheerleader outfits and the men wear hockey gear.
Throughout the performance, scenes are repeated often, usually with minor variations. For example, initially we see a scene of a band performing Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and then talking about one member’s affair with the lead singer and her subsequent pregnancy. They offer him advice from abortion to consolation. When she walks in on them practicing, they embrace. In the second iteration of this scene, we see her on stage the entire time, thus changing the meaning of the band’s dialogue for the viewer–would they say these things if she were just outside the door? Later in the performance, in the second main narrative scene, which takes place in a dressing room, three women change clothes and talk about sex, preparing to exercise. One actress implies that the older woman’s boyfriend is cheating on her. As the scene repeats, the speaker stands still, apart yet in the scene, and the two other actresses continue as if she were there. Again, we may wonder, is she internalizing the action or being ostracized, or something else altogether? An even later iteration includes these two women repeating lines from “Sex in the City” about an unwanted pregnancy and then briefly, gently kissing. Does the kiss suggest an erotic kiss, a Judas kiss, melodramatic kitsch?
The repetitions allow for multiple interpretations, all of which prolong the foreclosure of any given narrative. What happens with the baby? Does she get an abortion? Who else is having an affair? What is the source of the women’s rivalries? Why is everyone so excited to see Bruce? These storylines are fodder for incompleteness, serving only as an entrée to plot precisely chosen for their humor and dramatic tension–Superamas never intend to finish these stories.
In the second main scene, these gorgeous women expose their breasts and strip to their panties, while later one disrobes completely only to turn her back to the audience. Some of them even play with themselves, grabbing their breasts or performing exercise-like routines for clit stimulation, yet none of it seems erotic so much as perfunctory. This scene, which takes place in a dressing room, repeats itself several times, never coming to a conclusion. Some of the dialogue creates dramatic tension between the characters, but these storylines are never pursued. Indeed, the foreclosure of their completion is at the heart of Superama’s work in this performance. During one of the iterations of this scene, a clip from the movie What’s New Pussycat? projects on the screen, showing Peter Sellers (playing a psychoanalyst) and Peter O’Toole (playing a playboy) at a strip club. Both men’s faces show that they are inescapably entranced by what’s taking place on stage, although the film never shows the dancers themselves. Here, we have a mirror of that is taking place on stage: a burlesque without nudity, nudity without sexual gratification, narrative without denouement. The movie shows men at a strip club as the women on the stage are stripping. Our desire as an audience is never fulfilled; we are titillated by the nudity but there is no sex, we are piqued by the drama but we never hear what happens or why these conflicts even exist. Whatever is begun remains unfinished.
BIG 3rd Episode (happy/end) is itself a bit of a striptease. We are titillated and piqued yet never satisfied. Simultaneously, Superamas present enough to fill us: multimedia spectacle, sexy men and women disrobing, storylines filled with conflict and possibility. We laugh repeatedly during the show, stare at the breasts and the bright lights, enjoy the well-chosen pop music and familiar cultural references, marvel at the choreography, wonder at the narrative tension, and delight in the unifying theoretical principle articulated by Derrida. The performance comes together even as it remains unfinished. Superamas satisfy our desire for a total theatre experience even as they deny the end of that desire. I want to see it again.
Posted by Dusty Hoesly