Friday, June 3, 2016

"TROPICO": between what is solid and what is not there

Director-choreographer Raja Feather Kelly performs in TROPICO.
(photo: Ian Douglas)
Above and below: Dancers of The Feath3r Theory
perform TROPICO in the sanctuary of St. Mark's Church.
(photos: Ian Douglas)

I remember some years back, a few people started talking about how we'd simply have to get used to a new reality--that, in order to survive in our brave new world, dance would have to move out of live performance and into cyberspace and new media. That got my back up, and I'm glad to see that live performance in real time and real space seems not only alive but livelier and feistier than ever.

Case in point, a new production from director/choreographer Raja Feather Kelly and his troupe, The Feath3r Theory, running (amok) this week at Danspace Project.

Let's start by invoking its full name. Are you ready? Here we go!

the feath3r theory presents: Andy Warhol's TROPICO or Zeitgeist - the fall of man, the age of desire, Adam and Steve in the Rite of Spring, Lana Del Rey's 'It's Always Everything' staring Allen Ginsberg as William Shakespeare or the greatest story (of survival) ever told.

Now, normally, I'd italicize and boldface that entire name-dropping title (with a hyperlink), but I'm giving it to you the way Kelly gave it to us in order to minimize confusion. You're welcome.

But I understand it's okay, between friends, to refer to Kelly's opus as TROPICO, which also appears to be the name of a nation, or a people, with its own anthem. Although it makes a pretty good name for a queer, campy pop-opera with multiple musical references to everything from a Christmas carol to The Rolling Stones to The Wiz.

I like that Kelly's work not only demands its life but does so while living large. Generally speaking, I can appreciate dance ("multidisciplinary, boundary-breaking dance theatre," as Kelly's promo material would have it) envisioned on the plus size, specifically where it amplifies the creative voices of typically marginalized people. Katy Pyle's Sleeping Beauty & The Beast and Kelly's TROPICO are recent prime examples, both involving prodigious ambition and sprawl.

TROPICO, though, might have Pyle's piece beat for sprawl. (Did I mention it's also a graphic novel? And a downloadable musical collaboration between Kelly and Bryan Strimpel?) I entered TROPICO's befogged atmosphere shortly before 8pm and left it close to 10:30 having spent all that time in an unholy mixture of fascination (genuine) and impatience (equally genuine). Let's deal with that last part first.

Lord, is this piece long! Most maddening are those numerous times when it seems to be building to a possible end only to sprout something new. Honestly, it got to a point where every time an earnest player showed up with mic in hand--to recite, to exhort or to sing a little tune--I wanted to snatch that mic and throw it as far as possible.

For TROPICO, the audience sits on the bare (okay, thinly-carpeted) risers flanking the space. No cushioning, no back support, no intermission. And, as we all know, the humidity inside St. Mark's on a warmish spring or broiling summer evening needs a name as long as this dance's official one. Near-continuous fog-making only contributes to the airlessness.

I'm not whining here, just being real. This is a real experience--and, likely, deliberate. It's legitimate to talk about it.

But, at the same time, let me admit I loved the near-continuous fog-making--if not that humidity. The fog--and the dancing and dramatics within it--took over that familiar space like nothing I've seen before, and I digged that. Tuce Yasak's nimble lighting design played off that fog and the flesh, costumes and neon-colorful wigs of the dancers with maximum witchery, directing our eyes and carving out areas of dramatic interest. Yasak matches Kelly in the painterly ability to take a basic bunch of space and make us feel dimensions and possibilities within it.

Kelly's work proceeds with dream-like pacing, scrambled sequencing, mystifying vagueness and excess. Warhol meets the Symbolists for a drink at the Dada Bar. It's as if a dream has exploded within the sanctuary of St. Mark's Church. Sometimes that ongoing explosion happens in drifting slo-mo; sometimes it bursts out into a crescendo of noise and aggression--dancers gyrating, bouncing, bounding, squatting, strutting, humping the floor or roughhousing for no discernible reason. And sometimes Kelly forces some of us to look at things from weird angles (or through a barrier of tightly-spaced bodies) that makes them fairly impossible to see. Our imaginations take over from our eyes as the initial frustration gives way to wonder--except, of course, in the case of the handful of people who simply got up and walked out.

Kelly has quoted Warhol: “It’s the movies that have really been running things in America ever since they were invented. They show you what to do, how to do it, when to do it, how to feel about it, and how to look how you feel about it.”

I don't know if Warhol had a point, but I think Kelly is fighting back with a barrage of live art that's about not telling you any of these things but maybe pushing you to figure out how to be with it and with yourself inside it.

With performances by Raja Feather Kelly, Shaina Branfman, Amy Gernux, Beth Graczyk, Sara Gurevich, John Gutierrez, Lindsay Head, Rebecca Hite Teicheira, Nik Owens, Rachel Pritzlaff, Collin Ranf and Aaron Moses Robin. Video by Aitor Mendilibar +  Laura Snow. Costumes by Melody Eggen

Andy Warhol's Tropico continues tonight and tomorrow with performances at 8pm. Tickets are sold out, but you can join the waiting list at the door at 7:15 each evening. For information, go here.

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

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1 comment:

Remi Harris said...

Thank you for this Eva!

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