The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Faye Driscoll’s World

Faye Driscoll’s Thank You for Coming: Attendance, which opened at Danspace Project on March 6 and is the first in a series of related works planned over the next few years, is a strange trip. You have to hitchhike your way through it, never quite knowing what you’ll encounter, where you’ll end up, or what may be required of you along the way. It’s slightly unnerving, but mostly exhilarating, uninhibited, and adventurous.

Photo: Aram Jibilian.

Upon entering St. Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery, you’re asked to hang up your coat, remove your shoes, and sit against the lip of a makeshift stage in the center of the performance space. This suggests audience participation, so you likely opt for one of four long platforms around the perimeter, maintaining a safe distance. When the space fills up, the stragglers with nowhere else to go end up cross-legged in front of the stage.

On the balcony, the performers appear in a row like the Von Trapp family and sing a tune about turning off your cell phone, not recording, and what to do in case of a fire. Because we’re in a church, and because of how they sing it, it sounds like a hymn.

Then five of them (Giulia Carotenuto, Sean Donovan, Alcia Ohs, Brandon Washington, and Nikki Zialcita) assume the stage, linking up like chained life forms, wiggling about in impressively complex balances. The scene feels vaguely scientific, like observing biosynthesis under a microscope or in a cage: individual compounds joined together to become a macromolecule. At times this resembles an orgy as well.

A white fabric stretching over the stage (miked from underneath) provides the only soundtrack. As dancers rub against it, it emits scratchy groans that mingle with their huffy breathing and occasional grunts. They roll off the stage in one long sausage, holding each other’s ankles, bulldozing the audience. With Driscoll, it turns out that “audience participation” isn’t coercion—it’s invasion.

When they roll back onto the stage, they rip the fabric with them, revealing a dozen metal benches that Driscoll, who has been hiding below, kicks apart in a destructive tantrum. Watching what you assumed was a sturdy stage dissolve into fragments is unsettling; it shakes your faith in solid ground.

Those benches turn into the audience’s new seats, with the center now empty. Ushers pass out props: bunches of fake flowers, scraps of black mesh, gold foil shower caps. The dancers begin to jerk like stop-action figures at a cocktail party. The effect of their twitching recalls the flicker of early eight-millimeter footage or a flipbook. Driscoll seems determined to freeze each frame of interaction, compiling a series of snapshots of human clumsiness.

All the while, sound designer Michael Kiley chants a string of first names—the audience has been polled upon entry, and the section won’t end until everyone is called out, in order of arrival—which the dancers occasionally repeat. The roll call is goofy at first but then morphs into a conjuration, reconfiguring the atmosphere as much as the benches reconfigured the space.

Ropes and cords are passed around and crisscross the stage. Dancers shed clothes or don long, stretchy, wormlike bodysuits. Playful mayhem ensues. The dancers end up behind and between you, frolicking freely while slyly cajoling the audience to engage with them, ultimately bringing several members into a maypole dance finale.

It all works because Driscoll has slowly been expanding her sphere of influence from the beginning. By this point, she is no longer infiltrating the audience—she has encapsulated it. Suddenly you find yourself in her world, very far from where you started, unsure of how you got there but not the least bit interested in leaving. 

Contributor

Brian Schaefer

BRIAN SCHAEFER has written for the New York Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, Haaretz and the Jerusalem Post, among others. A sampling of articles can be found at www.Brian-Schaefer.com. He tweets from @MyTwoLeftFeet.

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