Ann Liv Young’s “Michael” is an interdisciplinary exploration of the hyper-real, which defies categorization as anything other than “performance art.” By juxtaposing the natural and theatrical, the private and public, the mundane and the over-the-top, Young complicates the relationship between audience and performer, obscuring the boundaries between the two, thereby questioning the limits between “life” and “art.” Executed in a fast-paced, feverish state of excitement, “Michael” is a veritable forty-five minute abduction that leaves the audience breathless, dazed, disoriented, at least a little bit uncomfortable, and, to be honest, in desperate need of a shower.
As the theater doors open, the set, a kitschy, life-sized diorama of a 42-foot long trailer, is in full view. (In an interview with DTW’s Cathy Edwards, Young explains that this pedestrian spatiality is at the crux of her work—she holds all rehearsals in her Brooklyn apartment.) The trailer’s white and yellow floral wallpaper is the most striking part of the set décor; it was inspired by Young’s mother’s domestic aesthetic. A refrigerator filled with coke sits stage left. The trailer’s skinny door and a window sealed with duct-taped plastic serve as portals between on and off-stage. Center stage, a boudoir picture of four of the female performers hangs above a Victorian-style, pasty white couch. Young curled in fetal position lies on a white drop-leaf coffee table in front of the couch. A woman clad in the same paper-mache-style of the couch, dangles from the rafters on a tire swing. As I found my seat, I felt like a voyeur.
“Michael” begins full-throttle with Eminem’s “Crazy in Love,” vocally accompanied by the character who personifies the corruption between the worlds of “real-life” and “art,” by role shifting between audience member, stage manager (often shouting directives from her seat), and on-stage performer. Young flails around the set in a state of frantic, self-satisfying ecstasy, adorned in a pair of see-through white panties, a pink cast on her ankle, and a bloody bandage that falls off almost immediately. Three more women, identically un-dressed, pop out from behind the couch and “stripper” dance on the furniture. Meanwhile, Duerkenson, the cast’s only male, appears behind the window, watching, masturbating, and, eventually, well, ejaculating.
The performance proceeds as a breathless collage of monologues, skits, musical numbers performed both with music and a capella, and over-stylized “dance” interludes. Sex—of an incestuous nature—violence, and the very dark humor of the absurd are the most prevalent motifs throughout the performance. While “Michael” is diverse in its elaboration of the real (non-simulated masturbation) and the hyper-theatrical (monologues delivered in the full-volume manner of a bad junior high play), the performance varies little in intensity and pace.
During the performance, I was captivated by the honest, and therefore beautiful ugliness of it all. The off-white floor, dirty and scuff-marked, mirrored the well-worn quality of the dancers’ naked bodies. Painfully lit by a glaring sea of white lights, the performers were bruised and covered in floor burns, their skin increasingly splotched by the performance throughout the night. Aside from the few self-referential moments when the performers broke the fourth wall, questioning the nature of the performance itself—concluding, this is art, and art is life—they didn’t seem aware of the audience at all. This sense of obliviousness was reminiscent of what one might do when alone and restless, in the forgiving privacy of one’s own home.
While “Michael” was not boring, I felt the performance revealed a certain amount of disdain toward the audience. An obvious expression of this hostility was when one performer screams “fuck you” at the audience for not applauding. The show’s finale, an acappella rendition of “Over the Rainbow,” added to this notion of disregard. While I enjoyed the ambiguous and almost accidental nature of its conclusion, Duerkenson holding the last note until he runs out of breath, followed by the stage manager’s declaration of “The End,” I felt that the performers’ departure from the stage without acknowledging the audience with a bow was a symbolic “fuck you,” implying that we were lucky to have witnessed the performance at all.
Ultimately, I found “Michael” highly entertaining. I was never bored into a state of rage, as is often the case with “experimental,” downtown dance. But was Young’s ability to keep the audience entertained the result of her unique sense of artistry, or because of her tendency to appeal to the lowest common denominator with extreme sexual content, violent vulgarity, and humorous use of pop music? Admittedly, I was mesmerized.
Krista Miranda dances for the post-modern company Selley Poovey/bigGRITS.