Feastby Vanessa Manko
A police horse stable may not immediately make one think of hybrid performance bridging dance, installation art, costume design, and architecture, but for Julia Mandle it did. The result is Feast, a site-specific work that takes place in a former stable on the waterfront in Dumbo using Plato’s Symposium as its basis for exploring human desire or eros. Audience members are permitted entry every half-hour over a three-hour period. They are free to roam from the installation/dance space to the “lounge” area where one can view photos of Mandle’s surreal, geometrical costumes and even have a drink. Feast, then, also plays with the notion of performance by merging the installation and performance space with that of the everyday social space. Just as these boundaries blur so too does the distinction between performers and audience members. The audience becomes just as much part of the “spectacle,” moving around to view the dance and thus creating a sort improvised choreography of its own.
Feast is a performance to be experienced rather than simply watched, in the passive sense of the word. The audience enters the installation space through a black curtain and is welcomed into an otherworldly realm, bathed in muted green lighting by Andrew Copp. A large house-like structure with a sloping diagonal wall sits adjacent to the built in bleachers on which the audience mills about. Eight large rectangular windows are cut into this structure and the dancers then move from window to window, re-enacting scenes from the Symposium.
The several dialogues in the Symposium, or “drinks-party,” occur over an animated dinner party and deal with the nature of human love and desire. In Feast, these dialogues and the atmosphere of a dinner party are abstracted in a series of dance tableaus for which the Netherlands-based choreographer, Beppie Blankert, has developed a meditative and languorous movement style. Gestures are pointedly slow and exaggerated as bodies ardently embrace, or, as the dancers contrive dinner party antics—raising a hand to one’s mouth in surprise, feigning casual banter or deeper philosophical musings—across a table top whose legs are supplanted by the dancers’.
Mandle’s bold and starkly angled costumes juxtapose the fluidity of the choreography and in turn complement the equally geometric structure that the dancers inhabit. As the lights fade on one tableau and as another window glows with activity, the audience must move and seek out the performance. Following the dancers from window to window, our curiosity is piqued, our desire to know is heightened, and, in this way, Feast, as a performance experience, resonates with the Symposium’s fundamental themes and highlights the viewer’s own foremost desire—the desire for knowledge.
Feast also forces its audience members to confront their own voyeuristic tendencies. And no one vantage point reigns; all viewers must find his or her own specific sight-line—one that may reveal a torso glimpsed through a Matisse-like cut out, or a dancer’s arm emerging or withdrawing from a frame, all the while the diagonals and angles formed by the structure intersecting with the dancers’ bodies. In short, no one person sees quite the same performance here.
Joelle Arnusch, Johan Greben, Layard Thompson, and Tori Sparks brought the right mix of sensuousness and levity to the piece, as well the impressive stamina needed to sustain three hours of dancing. An intriguing, well-conceived collaborative performance, Feast runs through April 6, 2003.
VANESSA MANKO was the former Dance Editor for the Brooklyn Rail.