So some good news, you know. Day by day. Bad things improve. And for that I am very thankful. It's hard to stay flexible and adaptable. Because, at least to me, it seems like the best way to be adaptable and flexible is to stay loose, and not too connected to the present moment. Like, stay passive and uncommitted. But, in fact, the best way to be flexible, the best way to adapt, is to stay vigilantly committed, and present, and awake, and connected, but only connected to what is the actual right this second moment. It's hard to participate all the time, but that is exactly what you have to do. (and I'm doing it).
So, I saw two really wonderful and inspiring shows last week.
(Photo by Ian Douglas)
I saw Jack Ferver and Michelle Mota in Me, Michelle as part of the American Realness festival. I've known Jack for a few years in NYC, and always admired his work. This was my first opportunity, though, to see a full-length dance of his in real life, and I was duly impressed. The piece ostensibly draws from the story of Cleopatra. I'm not incredibly well-versed in dance history or language, but I was really touched by the subtlety and nuance of the performance. So many of the really crucial and poignant parts of the show hinged on really small, deliberate moves, inflections, and tableaux. The piece, for me, is about communication, identity, and guilt. There was a certain sense of claustrophobia, ecstatic and impending doom barreling towards us, as the two performers enact their final desperate wills onstage, seemingly locked in a room. Obviously, the palace and the dungeon are the same. The handmaiden and the Queen. The boy star and the girl back-up dancer. The dynamics that the piece uses as points of departure were handled really intelligently. Jack's art is so rewarding, in a way which I really admire. The performance work doesn't reward you for picking up references, necessarily. It doesn't pat you on the back for your stamina or patience, as an audience member. It doesn't test you, just for the sake of pushing you beyond your comfort zone. It's not a matter of freaking you out and then patting you on the back for it. Me, Michelle was, yes, kind of scary, though. It was! I was scared. But it was a good kind of scary. As the piece progresses, Cleopatra becomes increasingly candid and (apparently) cruel to her subject, while at the same time revealing more and more of the mechanisms of this cruelty. I don't know. I think there's something really brave to an art work that makes a really strong and beautiful statement, and also shows you how the artist got there at the same time. Explanations and measurements and communications don't have to undermine your art idea, they can inform it and enrich it. I was very impressed (but not surprised).
(Photo by Blaine Davis)
I also went to see Young Jean Lee's Untitled Feminist Show. I had seen an earlier iteration of the work a few months ago, and was really bowled over by it. The current production is a bit different, but in good ways. All my favorite parts from the previous version were still there, and there were some new highlights as well. Without giving too much away, the piece has no verbal dialogue, and consists of six performers of varying identities, fully nude, exploding ideas of gender, identity, and, yes, feminism.
It is kind of a hard piece to describe, because anyone seeing it necessarily brings their own baggage, and views it through the lens of their own identity. I think this is intentional. There's no single way to read the show, or even any single part of the show. It's hard! Untitled Feminist Show reminded me, in a really inspiring way, that art (performance art) can be really fulfilling, nutritious. It can be good and good for you. I do feel psychically and intellectually enriched by going to see the show, and I think most other people would as well. As a note, it is still running in NYC until 2/4. You can see more information about it here.
I was really inspired by seeing art work that involved a tremendous amount of research and rehearsal and process and technique, but that did not make formal political or aesthetic judgments. The show does not offer an easy answer. To do so would be, as well, to offer a convenient way out of the experience of the work. To take a really hard line, especially with something as socially-entrenched as identity politics, would be to automatically include some and exclude other audience members. Rather, Untitled Feminist Show raises questions without necessarily guiding a response. There might not be a pat answer to questions such as "What is a woman?" And then, of course, "Why do you say that?"
The show felt sort of retro to me, in an exciting way. I feel like that could be read as a criticism, and it's not. I think the piece strains for and implies its own context, at once implicating historical narratives, as well as situating itself, intentionally uncomfortably in multiple milieus. The performers come from very diverse backgrounds, in terms of performance practice and style. (Full disclosure, I'm friends with one of them, Becca, and I know and am in awe of the tremendous process they've gone through in the creation of the work). For me, the piece raised some really fundamental questions about the history of identity politics and feminism in this country. It reinvigorated some of the questions and concerns that so-called "second-wave" theorists of the 1970s raised. This is really exciting to me. I was glad to see a performance work that adheres to it's own logic (the way that good and original art does, or should), while at the same time implicating and recasting existing cultural and aesthetic notions in new light.
Anyway, both of these shows made me feel really excited about live performance, in a way I hadn't been for a while. Dance, or dance-based art. Always nice to know that we have this equipment, already installed, this hardware of the body. And how great it is. It is great. Literally awesome.
Another thing that I've been really digging lately is Lydia Lunch's spoken-word work. When I was home in California I got her 3CD set Crimes Against Nature and have been listening to it o my way to work in the morning. She's so fucking smart. And she doesn't brag about it. Lydia Lunch's writing doesn't necessarily want to stupefy you into submission by sheer force of syntax. Beauty is nice, sure, but it's not the only flavor out there, and she arrives at it unexpectedly. I've just been thinking a lot about Lydia Lunch lately, I guess. In a recent interview, Kathleen Hanna notes that Lunch "has influenced culture on such a deep level and never really been given her due." I am inclined to agree. I do think that this whole sleazy NYC thing, this Lady G**a, Madonna, whoever, this wild child extreme living in the big apple thing, is more or less lifted from Lydia Lunch's Church of the Depraved. You kind of cannot fuck with Lydia Lunch, you know? She's like, the SOURCE. (In this same interview, when asked about who the "Riot Grrrls" of today are, Hanna says: "Brontez Purnell of The Younger Lovers is my favorite modern riot girl. Also the women who run the website http://www.girlgangunderground.org/." Which I also love).
Oh, and I've also been watching a lot of America's Funniest Home Videos lately. I'm no longer too ashamed to admit this.