Brink, photo courtesy Lorene Bouboushian and Laura Bartczak.
I would feel remiss were I not to offer a PSA in service of Dixon Place--a delightful space founded by Ellie Coven, now occupying a small albeit noteworthy segment of the Lower East Side. One enters through an old door which opens without the expected wooden heft or squeak of hinges. If the floorboards don't creak in reality, my memory has assigned the sound to them, because they feel synonymous with such inanimate utterances. The space is narrow and the lights dim; the atmosphere feels familial. The sweet mustiness of the air is made visual in the spotlit haze surrounding the small sea of heads through which I make my way to will call and await the opening of the basement door that leads to the performance area. Standing in the hall, I felt no inclination to extract my subway tome from the bowels of my bag, nor twiddle at the ongoing series of email drafts on my phone. I liked being there--in that moment, cradled in the din of soft voices punctuated by laughter and the clink of glasses; leaning against a half wood wall beside an eccentrically adorned dresser bearing leaflets of colored paper--presumably advertising sister spaces and artists.
Around start time, the door opened and we filtered through, down an unexpectedly homey passageway as though rec-room bound. I half expected a foosball table beneath a red stained glade lamp at the other end, but the series of turns and steps and doorways revealed a surprisingly cavernous Black-Box adjacent space. I sat in the first row, level and inseparable from the performance plane.
What was to follow was a pair of performances in the latest installment of an ongoing Dixon series called Brink, created by Kimberly Brandt and curated by Alice MacDonald. The series involves the presentation of two artists per night (5-6 times annually), aiming to provide innovative contemporary dance artists the space and resources to explore and present longer-form (30-35 minutes) developed or works-in-progress. On the bill the night of March 12, 2014 were Julie Mayo and Lorene Bouboushian.
The first performance (Mayo) began with precisely the sounds one might imagine would accompany blackness fading to light in an experimental performance context--guttural primordial cum benedictine chants, reading as the beginning--the beginning [of time] is truly the beginning [of the performance].
My choice to sit in the front row was actuated by the performers' playfulness with the fourth wall. They climbed the stairs, sat at my feet, and spoke mechanically into the lap of a neighboring first-rower, "Yes exactly, that's exactly it." The primordial sounds quickly gave way to radio sounds, a breaking of a convention that had become alternatively rote--very post post modern, or so it seemed. Chairs were brought in to face each other, sat upon by performers in what appeared to be a pants-less psychotherapy session in which popular culture references were discussed with decorum and what read as mock emotional heft. One women, the analysand it appeared, addressed the audience with a nod and welcoming word or two. Due in part to this inclusion, the perplexity felt inviting in its flummox rather than cold or distant as obscurity can sometimes so (reading as a private experience which others are allowed to look but perhaps not welcome to see). As I struggled to make sense of the work, to decipher the emerging patterns of jaunts and phrases, of floor-rolling and clapping and tip-toe pouncing, I read a myriad references into the work: everything from Beckett's What Where to a widely unnoticed millennial film about a teen-aged dancer.
Perhaps looking for patterns and meanings in such a work is like looking for faces in wood floorboards. There is something to be said for an aesthetic experience, and though I can not offer a ruling of what this piece meant objectively, I do not find that I necessarily should. It undoubtedly meant something to the performers, and others yet to the curators and audience members. These things live inside of each participant whose moments were shared within the duration of the piece. It exists in abstruse time, and variously in memories. Art and life are inherently ephemeral, and this experience embodied one particular manifestation of the ephemeral--it's own. It was interesting, engaging, and playful.
Brink, Photo courtesy Julie Mayo.
Between performances a stagehand drew a tangled line of unlit twinkle lights across the back edge of the performance area. There was no effort to hide the cogs of effort that go into these ultimately minimal pieces---no real evidence of theatricality. Though art and entertainment are not mutually exclusive, one heightens and the other escapes from. One element of art's potential subversiveness is the various ways in which this venn is manifest.
The second piece, too--reset with darkness--slowly awoke with the growing glow of the lights. A hulking figure appeared like a phantom coat rack casting ominous shadows upon a child's night bedroom imagination. For split moments, the figure represented a tower, then surely a beast, then more clearly a figure--eventually revealing itself as two. The performers nested within each other in a bramble of tangled and woven limbs. The first movement revealed patting gestures of limp wrists sprouting from locked-elbow stalks, graduating to light slapping as the lights rose and revealed coked jaws and distant eyes. If entertainment allows us to escape from ourselves, this piece by Bouboushian escapes outside of bounds we have internalized from external cues, stepping outside of the self to go to a deeper place within.
Throughout the performance I was delighted to see what would happen next. I wanted to join them in their regression; to engage in strange and lyrical hair-chewing, spitting, tip-toe dancing mimetic in a sense of a toddler's imitation of ballet. At one crescendo, one performer stood in a self imposed head-sling, tank top stretched taut across her face and hooked across her shoulders, pulling them forward, her long neck pulled into an uncomfortable slope. She held her space--utterly transfixing--and she explored her torso with caresses followed by skin-reddening slaps. In one quick movement, she unbuttoned her high-waisted pants and hiked up her pink underwear. The audience chuckled at her timing, the jerky movements and decisive absurdity. In a final delightful thrust she plunged one long arm through the leg hole of her partially exposed underwear, hand emerging through the thigh hole and coming to rest mildly contorted atop her unbuttoned pants--both under and over at once.
I thought of the multitudes escaping from our collective socio-economic/political woes in the loose promise of immortality which zombies and vampires ghoulishly embody, ambling, jerking, and frothing across thousands of digital screens worldwide concurrent to this performance--and then there was this room, these women, regressing bravely, hilariously, and beautifully in what I feel is, artfully, escapism done right.
Dixon Place is located at 161A Chrystie St. (between Rivington & Delancey).
Julie Mayo is a choreographer, performer and teacher based in Brooklyn. In New York her work has been presented at Movement Research at the Judson Church, New York Live Arts (in the David R. White Studio) and Greenspace (Queens). Julie has been a guest teacher at Dickinson College, Ohio University, Virginia Commonwealth University, Columbia College Chicago, and at the former Dance New Amsterdam, Gibney and ClassClassClass here in the city. She has received choreographic commissions from the University of Wisconsin/Madison, Wilson College (PA), University of Virginia, and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. She is a two-time Gluck Foundation for the Arts Fellow, a curatorial artistic associate at Links Hall (Chicago) and the recipient of creative residencies at The Ucross Foundation and Djerassi.
Lorene Bouboushian is a performance maker, performer, and teacher originally from rural Texas. Her pursuits include sounding and rhythm, intimacy and shock, absurdity and humor, and what it means to perform our silly, paltry, emotional selves (and perform others). She has shared work at JACK, Grace Exhibition Space, New York Live Arts, Panoply Performance Lab, and Muchmore's. She has taught through the Brooklyn International Performance Art Festival, DreamYard Project, Universidad de las Americas Puebla, and CLASSCLASSCLASS. She is fueled by her collaborators and her family. She has also worked with Melinda Ring, Daria Fain, Kathy Westwater, and Lindsey Drury.