INT. TV STUDIO, TWO PEOPLE SEATED, SOFT SPOTLIGHT.
Interlocutor: Good evening. Tonight on The Last Word we’ll discuss the complex choreographer Faye Driscoll’s There is so much mad in me, performed March 31-April 3 at the Dance Theater Workshop. Mad in me is Driscoll’s latest work, purporting to “investigate the physical [i.e., dance] and theatrical narratives that drive our misplaced need to be seen.”
And now please welcome the Snarky Critic.
Snarky Critic: Thank you, Interlocutor. The promotional description of Mad in me is spot on, and the subject of self-absorption has tremendous—and timely—choreographic potential. So it’s ironic that Driscoll comes across as an unintentional practitioner par excellence of the narcissism she claims to confront. And the audience, to its disadvantage, is used: relegated to the uninvited, assigned role of voyeur, to be made, as Driscoll says, “uncomfortable.”
Interlocutor: But Mad in me made me feel alive. I think Driscoll is taking dance to unique, if unexpected places. It was great from the beginning, when Lindsay Clark dancewandered onto the stage and suffered ridicule, encircled by the company, a confused waifwafting shade. I can relate to that.
Snarky Critic: Exactly my point. What did being adrift have to do with the need to be seen?
Interlocutor: It provided contrast, and set you up for the second scene, in which Nikki Zialcita shimmied self-indulgently in in-your-face, out-there exhibitionism.
Snarky Critic: That’s true. Zialcita delivered on point, a tawdry YouTube wind-up toy throwing an aesthetic tantrum, entranced by the novelty of being able to say nothing to the captive audience—her flat-palm bongo spoonslap solo, played over her entire 20 square feet (of skin), was perfect, invoking the look-at-me narcissism of the Internet Age—whether Twitter, Facebook, Flickr or even those 126 million blogs. That was coherent.
Interlocutor: You seem focused on content. Wasn’t this a dance performance?
Snarky Critic: Reviewing this performance was complicated. Driscoll said that Mad in me is a combination of dance and theater. To be blunt, Driscoll’s theatrical ideas were incoherent and, worse, unoriginal; the dancing—what there was of it, spasmodic (this a major compliment). Because we live in oversaturated chaos, Driscoll says, her incoherence is unassailable. But in fact it’s merely intellectuality lite. Driscoll said she visited the Jerry Springer Show to research the TV segment “moderated” by Jennie MaryTai Liu, in which dance was entirely absent—a huge missed opportunity for dance theater interactivity (unless you count wasting Lily Gold’s talent on a gratuitous rack flash; though may I say, two thumbs up, Lily). I didn’t know Springer was still on the air, and frankly, Mike Myers covered this territory in 1999 in Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me with wicked, unpretentious humor, leaving Michael Helland, a fine dancer when dancing, to deliver Driscoll’s calculated-to-shock transgressive lines from a chair (Michael: Your hemipenile lizard is waiting). Perhaps Driscoll is saying that she and the Mediated Generation feel connection to the cultures of Springer, stadium evangelism, repressive militarism, and wrestling entertainment—the latter two to which Tony Orrico’s and Jesse Zaritt’s athletic efforts opaquely allude. Perhaps Mad in me is a cri de cur—an unfocused cosmic plea for release.
Interlocutor: But the dance?
Snarky Critic: There were many innovative, indescribable dance movements in Mad in me. But they were eclipsed by the highly memorable flops, like climbing the water pipe stage left, or the ensemble club dancing scene (it staggers to think that professional dancers might dance poorly offstage), or the humorless showjudge martinet played by Adaku Utah, or the violent closing assault on the audience’s ears and minds by Jacob Slominski, inflicted on fellow dancers and a pre-arranged audience conscript. On the other hand, the dancers’ camaraderie, discipline and loyalty were evident.
Interlocutor: Although I wouldn’t characterize this performance as “enjoyable,” I was riveted from start to finish by its relentless flow and energy.
Snarky Critic: D’accord. Driscoll’s pacing, continuity and use of space—from Row Z aisles to the furthest corner upstage—were all seamless. However one might respond viscerally to Mad in me, it was superbly technically produced. Same for Brandon Wolcott’s sound—with Ian McIntosh’s and Michael Wall’s music, Machine’s (Dazzle’s) costumes, Amanda Ringger’s lighting and Sara Walsh’s set. It was impressive to see Driscoll’s deft integration in such a transparent, potentially unforgiving space.
Interlocutor: Is Driscoll a “dancer’s choreographer”? The performance really resonated with the audience (for example, the impact of amenorrhea on lubrication was drily, clinically indicated), which seemed to be heavily populated by earnest dance enthusiasts.
Snarky Critic: It’s not a choreographer’s responsibility to create for a general audience. However, if Driscoll chooses to create for insiders—those within her bubble, her challenging ideas will reach fewer people.
Interlocutor: To me, Driscoll’s violation of propriety seemed courageous. It seems that you want easy entertainment.
Snarky Critic: Granted, visionary creativity often isn’t “entertaining,” and you can’t innovate without experimenting. Driscoll has many elements in place, lacking only a choreographic consultant, a thespian collaborator and some actual actors. In Mad in me, Driscoll is orchestral, thought-provoking and intense. Whether that’s enough is a subjective matter—of objective and perspective.
Interlocutor: And that’s The Last Word on There is so much mad in me.
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