Friday, January 13, 2012

Didn't it rain: Meg Stuart & EIRA at NYLA

I felt wary when I first read that Meg Stuart and EIRA's 2007 work, BLESSED--now running here for the first time at New York Live Arts--had a big rain effect and some kind of Katrina connection. But I needn't have worried. This work escapes exploiting New Orleans' tragedy by being so over-the-top in its imagery that when it finally breaks like a violent fever, it leaves you feeling cool, cleansed, grateful to have come through.

For Blessed's stage set, Doris Dziersk has crafted a simple environment of heavy cardboard--a lush palm tree, an oversized swan, a small enclosure furnished only with a cardboard chair and a large shopping bag. Francisco Camacho (of Portugal's EIRA), dressed in a white jacket and slacks, moves around this space as if made of cardboard, too. Angular, two-dimensional, he strides like the animation of a figure off an ancient Egyptian artifact. Eventually, he retreats into the shelter, sitting sideways and staring motionless as rain starts to fall from the flies.

The drops fall a little at first; then comes a copious downpour that lasts and lasts. Over the course of the piece, about 75 minutes, rain will come and go over the cardboard set and special platform floor with an impressive naturalness to its timing, varying intensity and lovely mistiness. It reminded me so of several days straight spent in Arthur's Pass on New Zealand's South Island watching or ducking heavy rain that, now and again, would tantalize me by slowing down for a hot minute.

The presence of water in the design and/or execution of dance--Pina Bausch's rapturous Vollmond and Elizabeth Streb's cheeky STREB: Kiss the Air! are recent memories--can be exciting or fun. But the rain effects in Blessed transcend all that. You can clearly, rationally eyeball the overhead, artificial mechanisms that produce these showers. But shift your gaze just a bit lower, and the showers themselves look so natural that you're suspended in a state of imbalance and wonder. ("I'm in a theater." vs. "I'm not in a theater." vs. "I am SO in a theater!" vs. "I am so NOT in a theater!") And that's a good place for artists to hold an audience.

The deluge, of course, wears down the palm tree, the swan, the humble shelter and, eventually, the mind as the wizardly Hahn Rowe's layered soundscape, like the weather, alternates between eerie, mesmeric atmospherics and aggressive overtones. Camacho himself transforms--at first, colorfully, even resourcefully--then becomes shattered, sitting amid the mushy cardboard debris with a horrible brace distending his lips into a grotesque grimace. He hallucinates a Mardi Gras dancer (Kotomi Nishiwaki, whose carefree prancing over the wet floor in high-heeled boots should get her a Bessie). He also appears to hallucinate a stylist (Abraham Hurtado) with an amusing supply of costumes and confetti.

Blessed's final passage moved me because Camacho's body and his dancing, by that point, had loosened. I don't think this is a dance about New Orleans; no one can really encompass what happened to New Orleans. Blessed is about dwelling in one's rain and becoming human.

With dramaturgy by Bart Van den Eynde; costumes by Jean-Paul Lespagnard; lighting by Jan Maertens.

Blessed, by Meg Stuart/Damaged Goods and EIRA continues tonight and tomorrow, Saturday, with performances at 7:30pm. There will be a post-show talk this evening, facilitated by Trajal Harrell.

For information and tickets, click here.

New York Live Arts
219 West 19th Street (between 7th and 8th Avenues), Manhattan

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