Friday, May 18, 2012

luciana achugar at Abrons Arts Center

I read Gia Kourlas's interview with dance artist luciana achugar (Time Out New York) in which the two discuss the resurging interest in real theaters, as opposed to alternative spaces, as sites for performance. This fits with what I perceive to be achugar's distinctive focus on a sensory opulence that achieves theatricality without being conventional in any sense. The new--and intentionally self-descriptive-- FEELingpleasuresatisfactioncelebrationholyFORM continues her exploration of visceral resonance. She hypnotizes her audience over lengthy stretches in which otherwise bare women--achugar with her dance collaborators Rebecca Brooks, Jennifer Kjos and Melinda Lee--gently dip, bob, twist or sway heads and upper bodies obscured by long, thick hair, sometimes pushing towards and against one another as if sightlessly playing with mirror images.

achugar's imagery suggests a perverse conflation of a Christian penitent's self-punishing hairshirt (but with bothersome hair turned outward), Muslim burqas ironically made of women's hair and, unavoidably--since they are, after all, faceless, nearly nude women rocking nothing but voluminous hair--animated vaginas. An eerie, lulling score performed live by Michael Mahalchick, James Galbraith and Marisol Limon Martinez seeps into your head until the music gradually builds to thrilling, rock-show intensity for FEEL...FORM's final moments.

I think achugar, for the most part, makes the odd environmental stagings and Carrie Wood's manic-depressive lighting design work on her own terms up until that finale when the women--now dressed in jeans, faces visible and eyes smeared by colorful makeup--form a tight circle of heightened, ritualistic action. That finale, though, has neither the strangeness nor the excess nor the pull of the earlier material. As an ending, it seems more functional than meaningful, leading less to "celebration of experience" and "consummation of experience" than, simply, the end of the hour-long trip.

luciana achugar concludes her run at Abrons Arts Center--a co-presentation with The Chocolate Factory--with a performance tonight and Saturday, both at 8pm. For information and tickets, click here.

Abrons Arts Center/Henry Street Settlement
466 Grand Street (at Pitt Street), Manhattan
(map/directions)

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