Thursday, December 6, 2007

Got a C.L.U.E. for you

Like most relatively sane people, I dread crowded subways and cramped airline seats and, for a brief moment last night, I had my attitude on when I was crammed into the middle of a row of tightly-packed seats in Performance Space 122's downtown theater for C.L.U.E. This roughly hour-long work is a new incarnation of a traveling performance and installation piece by robbinschilds (Sonya Robbins and Layla Childs) and frequent collaborators AJ Blandford (set) and A.L. Steiner (who made the film with the duo). The lighting is by Joe Lavasseur.

The theater brimmed with patrons, and the last person to arrive in my row kept standing up and twisting around to see if the people she expected had finally arrived--they hadn't, and the entrance had already been closed--thus further invading my personal space with her winter coat, her large bag and her warm exhalations. As I waited for the performance to begin, I trained a leery eye on the smallish, identical video projections on two of the walls--a static scene of scruffy, uneven terrain--and on the mound of fake grey boulders wedged into one corner of the space. I didn't notice the lava debris and blond sand on the floor until later, but I did notice that Blandford had placed a representation of the natural world--albeit a tacky, ungainly one--in a theater, a temple of the artificial. The boulders took up much of the performance space and looked ominous and right-up-in-our-faces.

In addition, I had the sneaking suspicion that the score created and performed by Kinski (Chris Martin, Matthew Reid Schwartz, Barrett Wilke and Lucy Atkinson) would mean having to brave an aural onslaught from the left side of the space. (They like that sort of thing at PS 122.) I wasn't wrong about that escalation of hostilities, quite appropriate to the show's escalating exhilaration, but by the end of the evening, the band had made an unlikely new fan. I hadn't realized how enchanting, even sensuous at times, Kinski could be.

And I wasn't quite prepared for what Robbins and Childs had in mind, but their first entrance--and I think it's fair to call it that--warmed me to them and made me chuckle to myself. In the video, a couple of tiny, red-clad figures peeked out from the behind the rocks and sparse foliage and began to pick their way across the terrain, moving in and out of view. Such a small way to make a big entrance and, amid all that stillness, what a big impact that tinyness had! Although they were not physically present in the theater and were remotely situated in the video's environment, they seemed to be with us. And, no, I can't explain it any better than that. Trust me or see for yourself.

Inspired by travels along the backroads of Southern California, C.L.U.E. (color location ultimate experience) introduces us to two wild, mysterious women who, through their movements, live and on video, come to channel the formidably strong and violent forces of the natural (rocks, lake, sea) and artificial (highway) environment around them. Starting off as distant, miniscule figures in a video, who nevertheless seem palpably real, Robbins and Childs become forces of nature who rock the theater--and us--with their raw energy. And I'm upset now to learn that the Times's great art critic Holland Cotter got to call Robbins and Childs Thelma and Louise long before I did.

In the most practical sense, the "color" in "color location ultimate experience" refers to the pair's frequent costume changes--each featuring clothing of a single, deeply-saturated color--which, along with the shock of real sage smoke wafting through the air and the cranked up music put me in mind of the '60s. The piece unfolds before us like a tempting drug and like the effects of one.

See robbinschilds's C.L.U.E. at PS 122 tonight at 8:30pm through Saturday (with additional Friday and Saturday performances at 10:30pm). Click here for information and tickets.

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