The Brooklyn Rail

MAY 2011

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MAY 2011 Issue

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This inability to make anything grew into something.



A writer sits on the living room couch and stares at the computer in her lap. A glass of water sweats on the coffee table. A dog sleeps curled up on a green blanket at her feet.



Antony Hamilton (left) and Byron Perry in I Like This. Credit: Proud Mother Pictures.
Antony Hamilton (left) and Byron Perry in I Like This. Credit: Proud Mother Pictures.

A light flickers on here and there, slowly at first, and then faster. You can see the synapses firing. What if we did it like this? What if we showed this, but not that? Take these two men sitting in chairs, sleep-dancing: If we move the light in time with the music, we can make their shadows dance, too.



You can do this with your eyes closed. Once you’ve got the beginning, the rest practically writes itself. And don’t self-edit, for god’s sake. First thought, best thought. What are you afraid of?



This place looks like someone’s garage. It’s dark. There are two men and a woman, a couple of power strips, a tangle of extension cords, several handheld work lights, three (or was it four?) chairs, and a sound system. Two other men kneel downstage with their backs to the audience. They are huddled over the strips, which allow them to control the lights held by the performers. They flick a light on to direct our attention over there. They are literally shedding some light on the subject.



That’s Deborah Jowitt sitting over there in the front row. I can’t see whether she has a notebook. Does Deborah Jowitt take notes? I scribble mine without taking my eyes off the stage, flipping the pages as quietly as possible. When the lights come up at the end I see that some of the lines I’ve written are huddled together in a corner. Others are skidding right off the page.  



The subject: The subject is how. The subject is how they came to create the thing they’re performing. But for a long time there was nothing. They were stuck. They talked through ideas and recorded what they said. Now their words are coming out of the performers’ mouths. Stuttering, repeating, shouting, stretching them out like bubblegum.



“I like this,” says the woman. “This is a new thing.” She shines her work light over the two men sitting in the chairs. Slowly, she scans their faces and bodies, examining them like someone who has just arrived from another planet.



This seems like a good place to take a break. Let’s go over what we’ve got so far.
Yes, good.

But what about context? The who, what, where, when. Does that matter, given your intent here? Shouldn’t you be clear about which bits of information came from the post-performance Q&A? (And while we’re on the subject, isn’t it sort of cheeky to have a Q&A about what it’s like to create a performance that’s about what it’s like to create a performance?)



I Like This is the name of the work. Chunky Move is the name of the company. Think of I Like This as a low-tech cousin of Glow and Mortal Engine, both of which were created by Chunky Move artistic director Gideon Obarzanek using sophisticated interactive video technology. Maybe you caught Mortal Engine at BAM in 2009. I Like This premiered at the Chunky Move Studios in Melbourne, Australia, in November 2008 and was created by company members Antony Hamilton and Byron Perry. These are the guys who are kneeling by the power strips.



A lot of artists get peevish when you ask them where they get their ideas.



A lot of critics get peevish when you suggest that they have no ideas of their own.



Sometimes it’s funny, or disturbing, or confusing, or tender. Someone slips a blue gel over one of the lights, and we’re underwater. The dancers undulate in slow motion. We hear glug-glug sounds and scuba breathing. All is peaceful.



But what if I can’t do it again? How did I do it before? It always seems like magic, afterward. What if I lose control of it and this time I can’t get it back on track? I’m afraid I will have completely missed the point.



Now the dancers are screaming and hurling themselves across the stage. They are picking up the chairs and hiding their faces behind them. All of this happens in quick flashes of light punctuated by moments of near-total darkness. The two choreographers use the chairs to build a barricade against the chaos.



Stop thinking about what you’re going to write; we’re not even 10 minutes into the performance. I bet Deborah Jowitt isn’t worrying about what she’s going to write. Open yourself to what is happening in front of you. Pay attention but try not to get so tense about it.



The dancers are ghosts. You see the chair slide across the stage but you don’t see who pushed it. The ghosts toss all of the extension cords and lights and everything into a pile around the choreographers, who are still huddled behind the chairs. They cover the choreographers and all of the stuff under a large white mattress pad and then leave the stage.



Is this how it ends?



The sound of thunder. From underneath the mattress cover, a bluish light flickers. More thunder and another answering flicker. A cloud. Lightning. It is so unexpected. And beautiful.



So this must be the end.



But no; they have to come out from under the mattress pad and talk about what, exactly, is the right way for them to emerge from under the mattress pad. The audience laughs. The spell is broken. And the cloud is just a mattress pad and two guys holding lights.


Michelle Vellucci

MICHELLE VELLUCCI works at New York City Center. When she's not doing that, she writes about dance and other things, some of them arts-related. She also enjoys Pilates, ballet and hanging out with her dog.


The Brooklyn Rail

MAY 2011

All Issues