Saturday, October 26, 2013

Antonia Baehr: It is to laugh!

Antonia Baehr
Antonia Baehr
(photo by Marc Domage)
Laughter isn't funny business. Certainly not in the hands--in the mouth?--of German choreographer Antonia Baehr who, last evening, took an audience on a one-hour, sometimes hair-raising journey along the vertiginous twists and turns of the act of laughing. Her solo show, Laugh, was presented at Abrons Arts Center's Experimental Theater as part of the multi-venued Queer New York International Arts Festival.

Structured like a concert of classical music pieces performed by a virtuoso, Laugh demonstrates laughter as multifaceted sound issuing as if from an assemblage of wind, string and percussion instruments. Elegantly dressed in men's clothes and wearing her hair slicked away from genial features, Baehr performs much of Laugh while sitting at a music stand and gazing at scores contributed by a selection of her collaborators.

Her laugh phrases--punctuated by dropping her facial muscles into a flat, neutral visage--come in snorts, whinnies, bubbles, sighs, trills, whoops, explosive shrieks and ever more fascinating manifestations, each according to the particular nature of each score. One score starts off in a minimalist vein: a spare, repeating triplet Ha!...Ha!...Ha!, illustrated by Baehr raising one index finger to three points of an imaginary triangle in the air. After a time, we notice that the once-immaculate sound is becoming corrupted and fuzzy and Baehr seems to be taking sly pleasure in it. In another segment of Laugh, Baehr stands behind a large magnifying glass that enlarges and distorts her face and terrorizes us with laughter most monstrous.

Zvonimir Dobrović, who created the Queer New York International Arts Festival with his late husband André von Ah, sees the queerness of his festival as transcending gender and sexuality and colliding with the "new, irreverent, scary, lovely (and many more adjectives)" out there in a world filled with all manner of provocative things for us to discover. For her part, Baehr does this well by drawing us deep into one human thing--one thing we give little thought to or, indeed, merely laugh off--and mining it for all its music and color and strangeness.

The 2013 Queer New York International Arts Festival runs through November 3 at various locations. For complete information and ticketing, click here.

For information on QNYIA Festival's panel discussions (Creating Queer/Curating Queer) this afternoon (2:30-5:45) at the New School, click here. Admission is free.



Did the expression "It is to laugh!" really originate with Daffy Duck in a Bugs Bunny cartoon? If you know of earlier usages of this retort, drop a comment below!

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