Existence and the Body, Three Ways
DANIEL CLIFTON AND CHRISTOPHER LANCASTER, Time Stands Still
ABRONS ART CENTER | FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 12
IVER FINDLAY AND MARIT SANDSMARK, now and nowhere else
P.S. 122 | SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 14
ANNEKE HANSEN, look at them long and long
THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY | FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 19
In a given week in this city, obligation and desire conflict, depression or love or weather get in the way of staying true to a schedule, work comes and goes, and every once in a while, you hit an existential wall. What are you doing this weekend? You ask. Any plans for Friday night? A dancer asks into a mirror.1 Perhaps a journey into someone’s well-spoken confessions; perhaps you’ll find yourself as if wedged into a seat at a large table at the back of an Italian restaurant, red wine carafes on empty, pretentions running on high, and the ability to leave a distant and inaccessible present. Terror might set in. Life might seem just a little less manageable.
Sometimes I think performance as a subset of art-dance-theater manages to evade evaluation—I think, it doesn’t matter if this is good or bad because this experience of indefinite construction is about problems, questions, and the presentation of a space that either induces thought or makes thought less seductively definite. But then someone comes along and with their presence all the life falls from formlessness and it seems necessary to defend the highly skilled artisans of work that moves through the body, and all their justifiably weird creative moments that one should actually be able to say are good in comparison to what is simply not.
Christopher Lancaster’s half of Time Stands Still2:
On a stage full of men using musical and technical instruments (many of them pointed at her), the only woman, the self-described “dancer/singer/musician/choreographer” Alison Clancy, writhed about with only a hint of physical ability as if drunk in a black-lighted dorm room seeking attention from 19-year-old burn outs. No, no one was winking. The worst of suburban faux punk: short banged purple hair topping a long, pale body wrapped only in a few men’s neckties tied bondage-style around her torso. The 10-year-old that performed with Lancaster in a subsequent number exhibited more self-contained maturity of presence.
It was a joy to watch Diane Madden move in Iver Findlay and Marit Sandsmark’s now and nowhere else. Someone said, “This performance was so much more difficult, how the women interacted with the man here put them in dangerous territory—hanging off Joey Truman’s body, stuffing hot dogs into faces while continuing to dance and talk—and yet they didn’t seem exploited in the same way.” Someone said, “Diane Madden. You can’t exploit a woman with that much physical authority in her body.” Madden’s been with Trisha Brown for years; she performed in Findlay’s and Sandsmark’s strange and hollow space with cans of Budweiser, a see-through plastic couch, a tiny video projector, and a pattern of movements she tells the audience she created 27 years ago.
The only speaking that the dancers in Anneke Hansen’s piece at the Chocolate Factory did was in the form of numbers. The numbers here marked the timing of the steps, as if in rehearsal; dancers with varying degrees of proficiency (though mostly excellent) moved through Hansen’s detailed choreography, accompanied by live music composed by Nathan Koci. Often the dancers appeared in a row, arching back away from the audience, or leaning together against a wall; Ariel Pierce would stay behind and gaze from the other side of the room, or drop when the others were standing tall. The strong emphasis on the construction of intricate dances for many women (and one man) to move through together, the lack of flash in practice-style gray sweats: all of this a welcome sight that speaks of hard work and a commitment to highlighting body-based craft.
Hansen opened the piece while the audience was still in the lobby; our views of the upstairs theater and the room beneath the stage were both partially obstructed. Not as powerful as perhaps she hoped it to be, but the trick did create continuity between the annoying shuffle of subway travel, everyday city negotiations, and being ushered into seats for the performance. She closed the dance memorably as well—Holly Ko’s lights faded on the nearly still dancers, whose last seconds were spent softly milling about as their energy slowly diffused. They stood in darkness for a second as the music drifted out, windows to the rear of the theater letting in the only soft light.
1. Daniel Clifton in Time Stands Still.
2. Time Stands Still was not a collaborative performance between Daniel Clifton and Christopher Lancaster; the two artists split the bill the weekend of November 12th at Abrons Art Center. Clifton presented a thoughtful and spare dance-based, confessional performance with Burr Johnson; Lancaster collaborated with a long list of video, dance, opera, adolescent, and sound performers and designers to create what amounted to a big, messy (and not in a good way) conglomeration of elements that didn’t do much other than distract the few of us actually seated in the audience away from his undeniably strong ability on the cello.
PATRICIA MILDER is an art and performance writer based in Brooklyn. She was a former Managing Art Editor at the Brooklyn Rail.