Saturday, October 20, 2018

luciana achugar: the body in power and joy

Choreographer luciana achugar
(photo: Scott Shaw)

Brujx, a world premiere, ritualizes the labor of the dancers, exposing and transcending it to unearth the powerful and primal magic brujx within them. As in all of achugar’s [sic] work it proposes DANCE as the necessary transformational healing for our time. Brujx resists western assumptions of beauty and hierarchical order, freeing the dancers both of their role as worker in the power structure within the creative project and of the universal shame of being animal-sexual-powerful-instinctive creatures. -- from publicity for luciana achugar's Brujx

As part of senior director and curator Jay Wegman's two-week Karl Marx Festival: On Your Marx at NYU Skirball, luciana achugar's Brujx embeds her audience in the flow of the work, instantly transforming most of these "viewers" into performative, even scenic objects to be gazed upon far more than the official dancers. In her somewhat nervous pre-show welcome on Skirball's grand staircase, achugar offered each of us a choice: Either stand or sit onstage, or take a regular seat in the theater's rows.

As it turned out, if you sat facing the stage, as I chose to do for most of the 90+ minutes of Brujx--think bruja, Spanish for witch, but  gender-busting--you'd have to work to catch as much as could be seen from there. Sometimes you'd lean to one side or the other to glimpse dancers through a sliver of space in the crowd. Or, guided by the percussion of bodies slapping the floor or walls, use your imagination. Imagining the scene onstage behind a tightly-packed semicircle of people was not so hard, actually. A lot of Brujx happens through consistent, monotonous kinetic and sonic repetition with a blend of the organic, the industrial and the sexual. See enough, and you can make a good enough guess about the rest.

These aspects--organic, industrial, sexual--never separate in our minds as we observe. Instead of fixating on one notion of what we're seeing and hearing, we fluctuate even as the dancers stay steady in many of their actions. Their evoked nature ranges from insect-like to human, from animal to machine. One of the most indelible, brilliantly conceived and executed images is of a languid, cattle-like walk with each of the dancers on all fours, their haunches exposed and the luminous focus of everyone's attention.

achugar, curiously, is the only performer identified in NYU Skirball publicity, and no program notes, that might identify the others, were issued. Perhaps this anonymity has something to do with the significant partial nudity and behavior of the dancers throughout the piece. I was unnerved to see one man approach the stage with a cellphone and train his videocam on one dancer's upended, pumping backside.

It was not until late in the game that the most of those of us in the seats had mounted the stage to watch the three half-naked witches gyrate to electronic polyrhythms produced by an ingenious sound sculpture. I often think achugar aims to bring back the Sixties, which part of me, remembering the Sixties, finds a bit hokey. Also hokey, having dancers climb to the top of the audience seating and then, row by row, clamber down over the backs of seats. This makes both parts of the audience have to shift their gaze for a while, but to little purpose, and perhaps tells us what we already know about these witches. Yes, they are wild, unruly things. And hasn't the fourth wall been breached already--and more creatively?

Still, looking around as I stood with other on the stage, I noticed the audience's bodies were noticeably relaxed, their faces softened, as the dancers' liberated spirit seeped out into everyone. One woman, absorbed in herself and not even gazing towards the performers, kept up a serpentine undulation in response. As I took my leave, the dancing and gawking continued, the audience now almost completely merged and submerged.

Brujx concludes this evening with a performance at 7:30pm. For information and reservations*, click here.

NYU Skirball's Karl Marx Festival: On Your Marx--*all free with an RSVP and a donation, if you desire--continues through October 28. For information, click here.

NYU Skirball
566 LaGuardia Place (between West 4th and West 3rd Streets), Manhattan
(map/directions)

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1 comment:

Unknown said...

With all due respect, Ms. Asantewaa is being kind in this review. This performance made its conceptual points in the first 10 minutes: labor is hard, boring and humiliating to the worker/witch. The rest was repetitive, boring and tedious. It looked like what one might see at a local gym's burpee challenge, over and over and over again. luciana achugar's choice to subject the "dancers" to this injury-inducing activity seems sadistic. (Nowhere are the other performers recognized as "dancers" and I did not see any dance skills on display). Worker and audience exploitation. Inviting the audience to participate in this mess on stage obviously didn't bring out the best in them. I too saw the creep getting a slimy closeup video of the exposed performer; this was as revolting as seeing someone bring a child up on stage to be subjected to a front and center view of the absurd butt-crack costumes. Very little imagination on display here, and more than a little hostility to the audience. This piece should be called performance art and not dance.

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