Friday, February 22, 2013

Jennifer Monson premieres "Live Dancing Archive" at The Kitchen

At the outset of Jennifer Monson/iLAND's Live Dancing Archive, the audience sits without benefit of light for a very long time. We hear tiny, ambient sounds of one another breathing, shifting, rustling, settling into an alive, soft darkness. Recalling that Monson recently told me that she had come to think of her audience as the ocean, I'm also remembering a time when I sat and watched the open sea at night, its awesomeness shading into something even more mysterious and compelling than usual and more than a little scary. What's in there? What's down there? 
Jennifer Monson (photo by Valerie Oliveiro)
Live Dancing Archive, presented at The Kitchen, serves as a way for Monson to embody a decade of her history of research and making, her sensitive and searching relationship with ecological systems of environments and communities, and her understanding of herself within all of this as a queer woman, activist and artist. It includes not only her hour-long performance--a collaboration with two brilliant artists, lighting designer Joe Levasseur and composer Jeff Kolar--but also a video installation by Robin Vachal and a digital archive designed by Youngjae Josephine Bae.  Levasseur and Kolar accompany her live for the journey, shaping and toning her austere surroundings: Levasseur striding here and there, adjusting the position and varying intensity of portable lights; Kolar sitting at his table of wonders, manipulating "external weather phenomena, wireless technology systems and human activity" through an array of handmade radio transmitters and receivers. If all of this seems like a pretty packed package, it is indeed, necessarily, packed and yet rendered with elegance.

Having seen a preview of part of the video last year, I limited myself to Monson's live show last evening. Even so, I came away feeling full and privileged to witness the skill and authority of this performance.

Jennifer Monson (photo by Ian Douglas)
In Live Dancing Archive, Monson presents herself as a hybrid creature of fur (fake pelt strapped to her torso, concealing her breasts) and human, womanly flesh (the wide mesh of her translucently pale, footless tights enclosing while revealing the nudity of her lower body). She initiates her dancing by pawing and pushing through the air, unfurling into and swimming into it. She endlessly channels organic forms, many presences coming and going in her movement and aspect. An inner wildness becomes external, and vice versa, all with precise control and calibration of pace, effort and coordination. A brief femme-drag sequence/lipsync to singer Antony's "Bird Gerhl" (with Monson ritually adorned by her costume designer, Susan Becker, in a completely uncharacteristic platinum wig, scarlet lipstick and saffron chiffon sleeves) serves as a solemn moment of vulnerability shortly before we experience, along with her, violent disturbance in the surrounding field of energy and sound.

There's so much more that transpires, in this ferocious, profoundly beautiful presentation, than I can say here. I hope you will jump at your chance to take it all in before Live Dancing Archive ends its run at The Kitchen tomorrow night.

Remaining performances: tonight and tomorrow night at 8pm. For more information and tickets, click here.

Vachal's video installation will be on view in the theater today (noon-6pm) and tomorrow (11am-6pm) for free viewing.

Browse, enjoy and subscribe to the Live Dancing Archive site: Click here.

The Kitchen
519 West 19th Street (between 10th and 11th Avenues), Manhattan

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