Saturday, January 23, 2016

Guest curators offer food for thought at Danspace Project

Earlier in the day, I screened a documentary about Yvonne Rainer in which Rainer quipped, "I love existing in front of spectators."  And I had been thinking about the way performance is less a game to be played and won or lost with good or bad reviews than an invitation to someone's world. In the case of the frequent reviewer, that's like frequent flying. I have decades worth of miles and navigation within worlds created by others.

Thinking of it this way removes the pressure to level judgment and opens up some room for...whatever. For Yvonne Rainer's existence, certainly.  For Larissa Velez-Jackson's star crap. For the pleasure curator Ali Rosa-Salas intimated by calling her Food for Thought program "pleasure principles."

Rosa-Salas was the second of three guest curators recruited by Danspace Project for this season's Food for Thought (the series title referring to DP's canned food drive for the food distribution program at St. Mark's; donate a couple, get a ticket discount). Her evening last night brought us performances by serpentwithfeet,  Jasmine Hearn, Dan and Lindsay Reuter, and Jonathan González. These artists had also contributed words to something not labeled an artist statement inviting us to follow our pleasure, our melancholy, our bliss.

serpentwithfeet ("a brooklyn based singer") whose two performances opened and closed the evening--presented the challenge of being completely unfamiliar to me and being about sound instead of dance. I entered his world and bonded with him over the superior metallic gleam of his emerald green nails. I stayed for the way his perfected R&B voice and stylings layered over classical music. His voice had a right (and a rite) to be there, and I took instruction from that. I found myself thinking visually as I listened to him. He wasn't dancing, and there were no projections. Yes, with his piercings, skirt, sneakers, those nails, he was a certified work of art. But something else happened in which I saw what his voice was doing and, sorry, I can't explain it.

I have seen Jasmine Hearn dance, admirably, with Marjani Forté-Saunders (and, I think, Ni'Ja Whitson maybe?). Her solo, cinder, seems like attempts to reach out through voice, through sound, through direct address to a watching, unfortunately passive crowd--"I need an adjective! How are you feeling?" But I found myself looking past all that, almost softly batting it away so that I could concentrate. What shined through was Hearn herself--uncommonly pliable, mercurial, intense, physically invested to the max with zero caution, allowing no daylight between herself and her choreography. She began the work as if carving herself out of darkness and ended it by returning to the dark. In between, she burned and glowed.

Dan and Lindsay Reuter's Annie largely evaporated around me. I followed along behind their backs, noting the drab coloration of their costumes, and lost track of them somewhere atop the church's altar steps. For some reason, I never found my way around.

This is the second time I've seen work by Jonathan González; the first time was on a shared program at BAAD! It seems the world he makes is about taking ordinary things--the space, the lighting, his body parts, his voice--and twisting them into unfamiliarity and absurdity. So, if you visit one of his worlds, no matter what you bring in your knapsack, you will never be prepared. Even as the experience winds down, González will find a way to subvert your expectations of an ending. I enjoyed the way he did it this time.

Let's hope that, despite the snowstorm, the third and final evening of Food for Thought will be able to run tonight at 8pm. Curated by Greta Hartenstein, the program will feature work by Ayesha Jordan and André D. Singleton. Check online for details and updates. If it's on, don't forget to bring a couple of cans.

UPDATE: Tonight's program has been cancelled due to weather conditions. Stay safe!

Danspace Project
St. Mark's Church in-the-Bowery
131 East 10th Street (at Second Avenue), Manhattan
(map/directions)

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