Thursday, February 1, 2018

David Thomson opens world premiere at Performance Space New York

Scenes from he his own mythical beast by David Thomson
Above and below: Thomson, at left, with Paul Hamilton
(photos: Maria Baranova)

he his own mythical beast interrogates the complexities of American culture and draws from Hitchcock’s Rear Window, James Baldwin, the confession booth, Claudia Rankine, high school fights, Judith Butler, baptism, Roland Barthes, and Trisha Brown. Venus, a character that flirts with black face, gender ambiguity and sexuality, becomes a guide on this journey. Part beast and part myth, Venus is named after the Hottentot Venus, aka Sarah Baartman – an enslaved black woman who was exhibited as an exotic in the early 19th Century London and Paris. This code-shifting chimaera is Thomson’s response to the post-modern performance aesthetic that historically privileged neutrality as a means of subverting the personal narrative.
--promotional material for he his own mythical beast, a world premiere at Performance Space New York 
At center, Jodi Bender (left) with Katrina Reid
(photo: Maria Baranova)

This week, David Thomson wraps up Performance Space New York' 2018 COIL festival with the world premiere of he his own mythical beast, a work he has developed and shown, in various iterations from Danspace Project to BRIC, since 2012. A quartet with video and projected text installation, it feels like something massive punching its way out of a confining container.

I hated, but also sort-of understood, the space it inhabits--a black coffin of a room with audience rows set up along one long and two short sides, and woe to you if you happened to be positioned on one of those short ends trying to figure out what's going on at a spot that seems many cold miles away, the dancers like austere, awesome planets and moons. From the distancing and darkness rose stark ring lights washing across dark faces and torsoes--Thomson's and Paul Hamilton's dark Black skin. The men turned their limbs into layered sculpture, feverishly churning within a square on the floor, its space and boundaries sealed by tape. Compressed, trained to be small and of controlled beauty, the dynamism, fluidity and complexity of these two men only grew more apparent.

Above and below: Thomson
(photos: Maria Baranova)

The solid core of Thomson's project, with its numerous sources of inspiration and extraordinary creative contributors over the years, is the situation of the Black body--his body and Hamilton's and Reid's, too, though this Black woman's role here seems perhaps deliberately secondary--within aesthetics and systems upheld by white postmodernism. In a straightforward sequence, Bender--the sole white dancer-- gets to humiliate and brutalize Hamilton over and over and over and over again and then some more. The viewer, appalled, might flash back to some of the hallway's projected text--a brief exchange, between two speakers, about slavery reenactments--that runs alongside the loop of a Looney Tunes cartoon. Does it help, here, to remember that the dastardly, Road Runner-chasing Wile E. Coyote always brought about his own undoing? Maybe. I can't help but think that a good part of that punching out I felt from the whole work was about punching the hell out of one's own mindset.

Fierce performances make this work special and memorable, but I also credit the striking visual and lighting concepts realized, respectively, by Peter Born and Roderick Murray.

he his own mythical beast continues with performances tonight and Friday at 7:30pm and Sunday, February 4 at 3pm. These performances include an installation, and you are invited to arrive early to view it. For information and tickets for this and other COIL events, click here.

Performance Space New York
150 First Avenue (between 9th and 10th Streets, 4th Floor), Manhattan

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