Obeying = Acting Out in Brother of Gogolorez

I wasn’t at Yvonne Meier’s show the night that Arturo Vidich reportedly tried to make out with Gia Kourlas (the New York Times critic). But that’s the kind of thing that happened during the three-evening run of Brother of Gogolorez, which premiered at St. Mark’s Church last month. The night I was there brought its own set of adventures: Vidich licking the head of a bald man in the front row, in response to Meier’s prompt “one accident after another”; Aki Sasamoto brilliantly imitating—practically mutating into—a “cat on a hot plate”; Jennifer Monson stuttering and strutting her way through an episode dubbed “intricate nightmare ends in voguing.”

Arturo Vidich (left) in Yvonne Meier’s Scores (2009). Photo by Ian Douglas.

I wish that more dance pieces were as—what’s the word?—oh right, fun, just plain fun, as Brother of Gogolorez. A fitting selection for the series “Body Madness, Part One: Absurdity and Wit,” curated by Danspace Project’s executive director Judy Hussie-Taylor, the 45-minute foray into improvisation was purely pleasurable, delightfully pointless, and inexplicably purposeful at the same time. It was also the kind of work which, in showing how expressive-beyond-words the body can be, left me grumbling about pop culture’s recent conflation of “dance” with Black Swan (at its height as I write this—Natalie Portman took home her Oscar just a few days ago). “Would you say Black Swan is an accurate representation of the dance world?” a friend of mine (a choreographer) was asked by her co-worker the other day. Forget about Black Swan, I would have responded.If you’re curious about “the dance world,” go see Gogolorez.

The structure was simple: Meier, standing in a corner of the stage near the audience, microphone in hand, called out directions or scenarios; the four dancers and three jazz musicians—all expert, intuitive improvisers—interpreted what she said. The results felt like a game of charades in reverse; you knew what was going to happen, but you didn’t know how. Some prompts were clearly devised by a choreographer’s mind: “Begin with a small detail that’s growing, changing, and shriveling back into another small detail. The music does the opposite.” Others were like lines out of a fantastical poem. Bizarre as her instructions could be (“Cat? On a hot plate? Why would a cat be on a hot plate?”) Meier delivered them with such deadpan authority, in her deep Swiss accent, that you didn’t even think to question her reasoning.

Neither did the dancers. Whatever the cue, they responded with total commitment, immersed in their explorations, though not indifferent to their audience. The evening could easily have unraveled into chaos (and sometimes it did, but never irretrievably) if not for their expertise in making interesting choices, their sensitivity to each other’s whims, and their ability to embody such a range of creatures, from slapstick gymnast to relaxed postmodern dancer, from martial artist to innocently wayward pet.

Dau Yang delved right into the first section (“wild flow,” to “Swiss gangster style” music, code for grating, cacophonous jam session), oozing and undulating through an off-kilter tornado of movement, as if inebriated by the dissonance of the band (Dave Gisler on guitar, Christian Jaeger-Brown on percussion, Michael Jaeger on sax and clarinet). His erotically charged “nasty floor dance,” later on, was also memorable. Sasamoto, as that unfortunate cat, hissed, clawed, and pounced at the imaginary heat. Eventually, she wound up lying frozen on her side, the only sign of life a convulsing hand and foot. (An enigmatic performer in this and other pieces, Sasamoto always seems to be physically present but mentally far away; we may not know where, but we’re confident that she does.)

Watching the dancers make decisions—wondering, “How are they going to tackle this one?”—proved especially enjoyable as Vidich puzzled through “opposite of your first choice.” Which was his first choice? Which was the opposite? It became a captivating guessing game.

Sometimes, when I get bored during a performance, I find myself thinking, “Is it the art? Or is the Internet eroding my attention span?” That question never crept into my consciousness during Gogolorez. In fact, when Meier called “lights out,” my heart sank. Already? I guess Monson felt the same way. “Are you sure?” she retorted, the first word we’d heard from a performer all evening. Good thing, because otherwise we wouldn’t have been treated to the “miserable ending” that Meier asked them to find (but not before they had tied themselves up in an “elegant knot” and extracted themselves from it). I don’t mind admitting that their misery brought me a lot of joy.

Contributor

Siobhan Burke

SIOBHAN BURKE is a writer and dancer based in Brooklyn. She contributes regularly to the New York Times and Dance Magazine.

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