Spring Festival 2015: Opening

Today at the Placing Performance discussion, the second night of the Legible/Illegible, Samita Sinha described last night’s “Opening” performance as not only an opening night, the opening of the festival, but an ACTION of opening. The printed calendar describes that gesture as moving through bodies and their placedness, an action that propels, giving (giving off? gifting?) a “sense of movement.” Sunny Jain’s opening performance on Monday night at Judson Church was, just as Sinha described it today, a “sonic call” that cleared or parted the waters for the rest of the night, for itself, for the week. Jain’s dhol rhythms reverberate into the seated room from behind us, gravitating slowly into the center of the stage space at last, prodding us to dance or clap or nod in time, gathering in around him as he sonically opens the room to be even more giant than it is without him. There is an abrupt silence that catches my breath at one point, and when we’re returned into sound I realize my bones were waiting for it all along.

When the recorded track arrives into Patricia Noworol’s excerpt from REPLACEMENT PLACE, with chaos and applause and static, its pop rhythm also feels like it was already there – with/in/on the four dancers’ bodies, meeting their wobbled rhythm, which Chris Lancaster’s live cello joins into, ascending it down deeper. My eye is caught by AJ “The Animal” Jonez flexing his way down from the church altar, as if wiring the angles and levels between up and ground through his limbs. A roll to the floor conjures all four into their own versions of the same flopping phrase, which contracts into a song Nick Bruder sings while stumble-sauntering in lace-up stiletto platforms. Its chorus about what a freak and weirdo he is compared to…whoever the song is for…blurs in my memory into the chuckle of his audience: that chorus seemed to apply to the whole group after a while – a group of very different movers, even ill-fitting and incomprehensible together, made into a seamless team with mysterious interactions and actions toward unknown ends. Later the piece goes exactingly haywire: a little gesture phrase is made to happen over and over in different formations, directed by Troy Ogilvie, her nose upturned with tape and her voice nasally. An annoying “Thank you” after every direction she gives the performers, a careful management disguised as kindness and generosity that makes us laugh, and picks away at the structure of things by building such a strict one. The flow of the performance as such feels carefully calibrated and revealed by Ogilvie’s hyper-polite directions that leave Lancaster flailing in the corner like a dunce, Jonez without a shirt, and Bruder on his knees still gesturing in time. But even this tight ship is generous: we’ve turned a series of corners we could never have anticipated and ended up somewhere else.

Some phrases jotted during and after Okwui Okpokwasili’s future study #3:

one joint or a few at a time; look into the light; don’t put your heels down, be monstrous and lithe, hang on; tread water or whatever substance is to come; put through motions put through paces; a step is a big, effing, crinkly, refractive deal on that silver paper (vest, tank, underwear: the legs go on, a small fluorescent on the floor is all we get)

breathing anxious on the stoundtrack like hiccups; crying or sex or everything lost in a slow trickle, worrying on and on, getting over, calming or anxious; like hiccups, crying, or sex, but catching, contagious through time; the hands, the knees and later the pelvis are made priority

sings a changing hum tone, lunges; twists slowly around the leg; HANDS like sea urchins or anemones or enemies carrying the body into in-place gyration; the width or distance of thighs and calves from each other across the light

vibration twitch pass-through sprinkle dissipate; waves of sound course heavy under, closer, waning; sticking around, sticking; each wash through of white noise, fast sound-spin: “your innocence” and all the things to be done with it, from it, to it, by way of it

nearing the end there is a hand waving tentacularly just over her shoulder, lowering out of sight from my side angle

sings only sometimes audibly, the mouth rounding maw-ish into the light, around it and blind.

Today, the festival brochure’s reprinting of a lyric from Nina Simone’s “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to be Free,” reminds me of the power of desire for what is to come in that song. The “I wish” that repeats with every new thought. It sounds out its readiness and determination, while also ringing over and over with the reminder that the wish has to keep being wished, it is not yet. She tells us, singing, that if she knew how it feels to be free, she would sing. The wish echoes its own fulfillment, the call echoes its own answer. Well, here we go…

—Tara Aisha Willis

  • May 13th, 2015
  • Spring Festival

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