Friday, September 21, 2018

By Association: New performance from Pallavi Sen, Elena Rose Light and Evelyn Lillian Sánchez Narvaez

Above: Elena Rose Light (left)
and Evelyn Lillian Sánchez Narvaez
(photo: Malcolm-x Betts)

By Association is a platform for artists to collectively experiment with the practice of associative thinking. An artist is invited to be the “instigatory link” in a chain of thought, who then invites another artist whose practice informs and/or challenges their line of inquiry. This artist then invites another artist, and so the pattern continues. For three nights, the chain fuses and breaks in the form of shared evening presentations that put artists in creative discourse with one another across artistic disciplines. -- from publicity for Abrons Arts Center's By Association: Elena Rose Light, Pallavi Sen, Bully Fae Collins

The Underground Theater at Abrons Arts Center bugs me. It is so infernally ugly with its brutal, oppressive design. There isn't anything I like about this space, though I've seen some cool things there. I sometimes think it's designed to eat whatever enters.

And it might have eaten Pallavi Sen's section of last evening's By Association: Elena Rose Light, Pallavi Sen, Bully Fae Collins, except that Sen's multifaceted visual display--a bustling, long/tall thing spanning most of the space while Sen sat all-too-gently reading its text at one side--seemed too monumental to be easily consumed by the theater...or by its audience. I must admit when I wasn't checking out the imagery in front of me, Sen's voice almost lulled me to sleep. I made an effort to shift focus to her, now and again, but I suspect she wanted to stay out of sight, her body folded close to the darkened floor and tucked away with her words (about her South Asian family and about loss) and her little reading light, while her projections unfolded a manifest of what her mind is really like. I can probably call to my own mind what her lost relatives looked like and everything dancing around their cameo portraits but, for the life of me, I will not be able to tell you much of what she told us about them or what Sen looked like last evening.

After a ten-minute break, though, collaborators Elena Rose Light and Mexico-born Evelyn Lillian Sánchez Narvaez ate the theater.

Their opening momentarily fooled us into thinking the intermission was just continuing. Lights did not go down. Eventually, at both extreme ends of peripheral vision, I became aware of presences at the tops of the long staircases leading down into the performance space from both sides of the theater. Presences barely visible. Presences beginning to vibrate. Presences that, when finally fully seen, presented as comic. Comic in their ridiculous suits painstakingly constructed of clear, crinkly bubble wrap. Comic in the way they endlessly bounced on their feet and pumped their arms and scampered all around and up and down the theater and its balcony like schoolkids chasing each other at recess.

I know a bit more about Sánchez Narvaez's work and have watched her start other performances with a similar scattered, extroverted approach and gradually unpeel, winding her way down to a deeper, quieter, more sensitive and emotionally brave place. What she and Light accomplish in this demanding, durational piece, as they strip away the plastic, becomes similarly revelatory and wrenching.

You won't catch much of what's said between the two; they have no mics. But you'll catch enough to recognize the triggering of issues of racial and class difference. Sánchez Narvaez first interjects this by calling out Light for having once complained, "I'm paying you more than I'm paying myself." It goes downhill from there with the performers appearing to be athletes in training...or an athlete (Light) with a particularly hardass trainer (Sánchez Narvaez)...or two collaborators who have hit a brick wall that only physical aggression and honesty might begin--only just begin--to demolish.

This is a very hard dance to do...and see...and think about.

The remaining By Association schedule pairs Pallavi Sen's solo with work by Bully Fae Collins (tonight at 7:30pm) and Bully Fae Collins with Elena Rose Light and Evelyn Lillian Sánchez Narvaez (tomorrow at 7:30pm). Get information and tickets here.

Abrons Arts Center
466 Grand Street (at Pitt Street), Manhattan
(directions)

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