Thursday, September 18, 2003

Slow Art 

I. My friend's friends say to him after the 2nd time he is at Newmark Theater seeing Donna Uchizono's Butterfly piece:

"...the piece was too slow, too repetitious. What she had to say was good, but why did she have to keep saying it over and over, we got it, we got it."

My friend and I, we discussed this. Or really, we stared at each other wide-eyed and slack-jawed because we were transfixed during Uchizono's piece and afterwards we talked about the possibility we have been changed forever. Exactly what we appreciated about Uchizono's piece (and in the effort of all the works/chats I have witnessed at TBA so far) is the apparent dedication to a vision that creates a complete world of otherness (as in-- other than the world our bodies walk around in daily) to appear on a stage before our eyes and hypnotize us into believers. I like that performances mimic RealLifeTime in both life's speed-of-light changeability and in the deep slowness of time inherent in entities, like us, that grow and alter in certain ways only Over Time. I like this entrapment and the repetition, like a chanting, that creates it. I want the dissolving of line between performance and me-audience, so in the end I feel as if I was danced, or poemed, or story-ed or made into song.

II. And speaking about ways choreographers & performances can dissolve this line between

I made it to Uchizono's Salon piece at Conduit Studios and walked into a room full of people dancing. I found a partner and got myself out on the dance floor to learn a dance phrase that Uchizono's dancers would later use in their performance. My partner and I were helped along by dancers Levi Gonzalez, whose instructions included telling us "okay, now this is the sexy part" and "okay, now this is the really sexy part" until Linda and I were sure we were appearing in some hidden camera NR-rated extravaganza; and Hristoula Harakas, who did a sort of Arthur Murray run through with us until we had it down and were ready for the big finale when everyone out on the floor did the phrase together ending in one big hurrah. After that, Uchizono told the story of how she came to create Salon and shared her experience and the stories of the native peoples in the dance circles of Argentina where she went over the course of years, to study Tango.
By the time Salon started, I was sitting in a big circle with my friends and fellow risk-takers feeling a part of the beauty and sensibility of this performance piece. From what I saw, Salon reached all the way to the walls of Conduit, made into a permeable feast of movement and story by the efforts of Uchizono and her dancers.

III. But then, the clock said it was 8:45pm and I had to get to the Newmark Theater to see Miranda July or I'd never forgive myself

So, since I had strategically situated myself near the Conduit studio exit, I waited for the dancers to circle their way to the side of the room furthest from me to make the least disturbance on my way out. I sort of half crawled and half pushed myself as near to the door as possible before standing up, and in this awkward journey I found myself in a kneeling position right in front of Uchizono who I had not realized was sitting at the table right behind me. She didn't look down at me, but I think I dipped my head slightly in a sort of nod of gratitude and hoped it was dark enough that no one really saw me. Luckily we had been asked to remove our shoes upon entering the studio, so my exit was silent if not graceful.

IV. Then I ran like hell up 9th Avenue and across the Salmon Street section of the park blocks to the Newmark Theater to see Miranda July

And before I go any further, I have to admit this: I have a personal coach who I work with to keep my focus of vision as an artist clear & strong. (I don't have a man-husband or woman-wife in my life at present and so think having a personal coach works for me as a substitute for this, but with the twist of having a person who isn't invested in the financial outcome--or not--of my endeavors---although she has on occasion questioned the sanity of some of my choices). My coach Carolyn has asked me often, "so who are your heroes now?" (I think her plan is that one day My name will show up this list of heroes, but since I'm on to her trickery, I'll keep myself off the list long enough to drive her a little crazy too). On every list I've rattled off to her, Miranda July's name has shown up. I remember July's videos of years ago, this thin young woman wandering around ill-lighted rooms in a wig (was it blonde), staring into mirrors, (if my memory serves me right), creating a media landscape that didn't always make sense to me, but spoke to me of possibilities of a different kind of performance: and a different kind of a performer.

And now, years later, July's piece, How I Learned to Draw, was more than I ever could have imagined from those early pieces. Thursday night, her use of self, film, images, words, staging, audience connection, blended into a timeless wave of what? what? I can't even find the word to describe it:

You see, I was sitting in my living room one night when Miranda July and a few hundred other people showed up and we had this amazing party where we told stories, and showed home videos, and applauded the virtuosity of our children, and did psychic readings, and even some matchmaking, and there was love between strangers who weren't really strangers, and then we philosophized about Nothing, and told the truth about being human beings, and then it got later and like long times spent together can do to people like us sometimes, we finally told each other how much we've meant to each other with tears in all our eyes. And at the end we were "on to each other" and said "I love you" before we said goodnight and good-bye and asked our hostess July when would see her again? and will she please take care of herself.

It was That kind of party and that kind of night, and that kind of performance.

Especially impressive was July's way of filling the whole room (similar in result to Uchizono but technically different than the way Uchizono also accomplished this in Salon) by creatively and out of what appears to be an offering? a showing? of a kind of vulnerability, bringing the audience into the performance, making the audience a collaborator of sorts, or in other moments, a co-conspirator. July's integrative use of video to expand the vocabulary of what she had to say to us was brilliant. Never intrusive, never on the outside of the main thread of the piece. In a beginning section, she used screen shadows (the kind made from being behind a lighted screen) that metamorphosed two beings into an otherworldly pink floating entity that danced and wobbled on the screen until the original child-sized shadow re-emerged onto the screen and then onto the stage in front of us to play the violin. Later, the word "nothing" appeared on the screen, a yellowish background with the word printed in black. After July tried to do nothing in front of the audience for awhile, she finally exited in what she said was a state of anxiety (making her too nervous to "do nothing"), and the screen came to life like another character in its own right. A definition of "nothing" appeared on the screen followed by simple sentences spelling out a simple philosophy of life, and then an invitation to the audience to not return to our regular lives tonight and turn the theater into our home, our world, our planet forever together just by choosing to not go back home to our other lives and letting her, July, be our leader in this brave new world. The thought crossed my mine to take her up on the idea and I'm sure it crossed other's minds too.

In another section, July used a piece of video shot in the Newmark when it was empty. She performed psychic readings on her future audience members by sitting in certain seats and getting vibrations/insights into the future occupants of those seats. The night of the show July had the people actually sitting in those same seats (identified in the video by row and number) stand up, while in the video she was revealing her psychic insights, and commenting more on her/their vibratory readings. In person, July spoke to the chair occupants and to the audience in real time as the video continued to roll. Again the video was like another character interacting with July and us, telling us it's story, making it's offering to the night's performance, collaborating with July.

In the Q&A period that ended the night, most of the questions were about July's announcement that she is leaving town for LA, to make her movie and continue her work with her "good friends" down there in California after 9 years in Portland, growing up her art. People wanted to know if she'll be coming back and when, what exactly will she be doing: and all of the questions seemed asked with the tone of a caring, and soon to be powerless father &/or mother asking their leaving-home daughter if she believed she had really given her new life plans enough thought. That tone that says: we'll miss you, are you sure you don't want to stay awhile longer?

So bye-bye Miranda July. Thank you and thank you for staying long enough to offer us "How I Learned to Draw" which should reassure all the parental-energy out there for you, that you and your art are more than prepared to venture whenever and wherever your vision leads you. We'll be watching.

V. Today the Noontime Chat is Felix Ruckert on Audiences

I wrote myself right out of being able to attend. So if you heard him speak today, let me know what he had to say when you get a chance

Lilian Gael

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