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Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Larissa Show

Let me say it outright: I love Larissa Velez-Jackson. 

And you have one more night to see her troupe at Danspace Project--tonight, 8pm--where she's showing Holy Now! and Making Ends Meet as part of curator Trajal Harrell's PLATFORM 2010: certain difficulties, certain joy.

Harrell's concept of "difficulties" (Velez-Jackson's experiences with a broken toe or a broken heart) and "joy" (the choreographer's ebullient creativity and infectious sense of humor) is well illustrated here. Velez-Jackson is an injection of sunshine and courage.

I love how, in Holy Now!, she dares to create a lovely, honest-to-god altar (although a suspiciously pagan one) in the St. Mark's sanctuary and populate postmodern performance space with women having what appears to be ecstatic encounters with divinity. The work--performed by the choreographer and Sarah Holcman, Abigail Levine and Katy Pyle with soundman Jon Velez-Jackson--is poised on a fine line between seriousness and goof, a satire of bizarre, cultish behavior that locates (and enjoys) the cultish behavior in theatrical performers and their audiences.

Making Ends Meet seems spiritual, too--in the sense of the choreographer using every trick in her book to exorcise the demons that bedevil the process of making and presenting art--like self-doubt and bad reviews. How to do that? Well, start by advising your audience to loosen up: "Guideline #1: Enjoy!" Have a videographer (Ivo Serra) follow you around and turn his lens on the people in the seats. Those live close-ups of audience members' faces will knock 'em off guard. Package yourself in a format the audience has already embraced--the reality show--and maybe think about hiring a coach to bring some edginess out in your niceness.

"Don't hurt the artist," Velez-Jackson sings, over and over again.

Singing this, she parked herself right in front of me--me with my pen suddenly frozen over my notepad--and gazed into my eyes while the videocamera was trained, for painfully long minutes, on my face. 

(Oh, no worries, Larissa. You're barking up the wrong tree. The tree you really want, though, might be planted over on the other side of the room!)

Velez-Jackson's a charismatic, kickass artist who, with playfulness and protean skills as a physical comedian, establishes immediate rapport with her audience. Getting us right where she wants us, she's capable of delivering any kind of message or sting or bouquet of rare joy that she desires.

See Larissa Velez Performance Company tonight, 8pm. For information and reservations, click here.

Danspace Project
131 East 10th Street (at Second Avenue), Manhattan


Anonymous said...

I actually had a difficult time enjoying the performance. The first few moments of stillness really drew me in and I could not stop laughing at the far woman's gaping mouth but after the piece began moving I lost all sense of reality. I couldn't seem to follow where she was going or how any of the pieces related to each other. There were times when I felt she was playing to the audience waiting for the reaction rather than disregarding it if it didn't come (in the case of smacking the fake snake on the blonde woman's head). I know that none of these things are necessary for a piece of art but for me personally there was so much playing going on that I couldn't engage with anything beyond its surface appeal and felt like I needed some grounding maturity to leave any kind of impression. What do you think of all that?

(sorry if this was posted several times, I'm troubleshooting openID)

Eva Yaa Asantewaa said...

What do I think? I didn't feel similarly lost or disengaged.

But you expressed two interesting things: 1) "...after the piece began moving I lost all sense of reality" and 2) "...and felt like I needed some grounding maturity to leave any kind of impression."

It's possible that you were feeling some of the disorientation that Velez-Jackson might have intended and that, I believe, Trajal Harrell intends as I really see him (and Velez-Jackson) extending some of the "I get lost" feeling from Ralph Lemon's PLATFORM 2010 series. I also think V-J was going more for lightness than maturity, introducing something that contemporary dance might need. One of Harrell's aims, as I understand it, is to look at the possibilities for pleasure and fabulousness and stylishness and joy in contemporary dance. What happens when any or all of those elements are injected?

I also think there's something going on where artists are exploring headiness in performance (as in ritual) for its transformative power. From my perspective, that might prove to be useful if we could flip that and look at actual religious beliefs and practices as theater/storytelling that we somehow came to take all too seriously and codified and hit people over the heads with. So, maybe by "losing all sense of reality" and "letting go of grounding maturity," we can release a few things that are really causing us some major problems, open up some space.

Unknown said...

I really like Eva's response to the first comment, and I agree 100%. Dance (and much modern performance art in general) could really use more lightness. I think Velez-Jackson is very entertaining, which is more than you can say about a lot of what I see out there with artists who try too hard to be heavy. I also agree that Velez-Jackson does use several different things to cause disorientation. The lightness throws people off because they're not used to it. As far as the first comment saying that it seems VJ was playing to the audience, I can say that's probably not the case as I saw two nights of the show. And even if she was playing to the audience a bit to get them going, what's wrong with that? Since when is engaging an audience a bad thing? Why is entertainment not art? Is art only supposed to bore and offend the viewer?

I thought it was a brilliant show and look forward to seeing more from this fabulous choreographer.

Anonymous said...

I love these comments. I wanted to express how I reacted to the work with honesty which I think can be difficult for people when they don't 'get' it. It's nice to see it discussed from within its cultural context. I just needed a different lens with which to view it and I appreciate your input. :-).

Eva Yaa Asantewaa said...

Thanks! I love getting comments and hope for more! Most readers are silent! Bring 'em on! :-)

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