|In a New York performance season in which the controversial London import “My Name is Rachel Corrie” took center stage, there occurred something new and exciting around the periphery: multiple examples of new narrative, energizing a wide range of live downtown performance. This is not the sophistic navel gazing of the past but an authentic multi-layered exploration of self in search of universal connections.|
New Narrative Energizes New York Performance – Lisa Paul Streitfeld
In a New York performance season in which the controversial London import “My Name is Rachel Corrie” took center stage, there occurred something new and exciting around the periphery: multiple examples of new narrative, energizing a wide range of live downtown performance.
This is not the sophistic navel gazing of the past but an authentic multi-layered exploration of self in search of universal connections. Science has been telling us that we are made of the stuff of stars—that we have the potential within to become the beings we want to become. New narrative requires that we leap into the personal journey that is an authentic struggle for holism. The key is remaining open to the shifting currents of the collective unconscious, for adopting a single narrative exponentially births new ones until we realize what complex beings we are.
How fitting that the Judson Church, which ushered in postmodern dance in the 70s, is becoming a laboratory for this impetus. In November, Karen Bernard, a downtown festival director championing the integration of movement with cross disciplinary art, injected humor and self-awareness into a summer vacation through the use of movement integrated with music, theatrical props and text read from the back of enlarged photographs.
More recently at the Gershwin Hotel, the engaging Susana Manzana, spun her bizarre personal narrative The Loo from a bathtub about her newly gay husband of two decades leaving her for a man. Musical interludes by Neke Carson pumped up the melodrama into a new narrative of self-uncovering and reconciliation projected at the audience by way of a strategically placed mirror.
The Benchmark as Inspiration
The spring revival of Neil Greenberg’s Not-About-AIDS-Dance (NAAD) at Dance Theater Workshop served as a benchmark. In this 1994 masterwork, the choreographer’s voice, projected in text on the back wall, followed five dancers through the annual cycle in which the piece was created.
Viewing the continued freshness of NAAD through the lens of a new sincerity enlivening the downtown performance scene reveals a growing willingness to embrace uncertainty in a universal quest. Greenberg’s language of commonality was AIDS itself; despite—or perhaps because of—the negation in the title, the work easily lent itself to dialogue then and today.
Miguel Gutierrez paid homage to Greenberg in his Retrospective Exhibitionist, which returned to Dance Theater Workshop just prior to the NAAD revival. This risky work transmitted an authentic desire for connection with a stripped down nakedness as it progressed through video, spoken word, photography and live movement often taking place in the nude. As a result of taking the leap into personal narrative, the innovator transformed into a new narrative pioneer in the very medium charged with the essential task of seeking universal connections where it matters most—the human body.
Personal narrative delivering the body consciousness of an interconnected universe was theme of the November world premiere of Roseanne Spradlin Dance’s Survive Cycle, also at Dance Theater Workshop. The initial attempt to penetrate the dancers’ faces with video close-ups was followed by verbal revelations of painful memories of relationship breakup. In taking on the role of silent interrogator, the choreographer exploited her dancers biographies rather than taking the leap of faith into her own personal narrative. As a result, the survival reference of the title more adequately summed up the ordeal she put her dancers through rather than a truly collaborative process of death and rebirth. Still, the work was memorable for the incorporation of a unifying symbol into movement. Incongruous video clips of extreme close-ups of the cutting of fabric—a metaphor for the cutting of emotional bonds—were integrated into the cycle by way of pieces of clothing sorted by the dancers into a mandala at journey’s end.
Time and the Body
NADD has proved in time to be both a harbinger and catalyst for New Narrative in the 21st century. Real life doesn’t just interfere with the act of creation; real life actually becomes a self-aware act of creation! What a radical and novel idea — to make a work from a “time out” that subjectively reflects on the act of creating something new when everything familiar is dying!
The transparency of this process leads to a conscious embrace of a new paradigm of interconnection. This was palatable at the Charter Oak Cultural Center in Hartford where “TIME IN” explored the effects of time on the body through a remarkable collaboration between the Judy Dworin Performance Project, Women of the Cross and incarcerated women taught writing by the novelist Wally Lamb. The emotional immediacy of this event was delivered by way of embracing Uncertainty through a shattering of boundaries leading to a merging of a cappella/ rap with dance/theater.
The use of a cappella provided a respite from the ravages of real time competition in Witness Relocation’s “Dancing Vs. The Rat Experiment.” Director/choreographer Dan Safer’s presentation at La MaMa E.T.C. consisted of a roped-in arena serving as the geometry of human confinement. This square contained movement out of confining patriarchal stereotypes by way of sexually charged aggression as the genders physically fought the struggle for domination. The Saturnine tone was established by a narrator reading selections from “Population Density and Social Pathology.” Published in the 1964 Scientific American, the paper summed up an age in which human sexual behavior was analyzed and codified by behavioral psychology. This archaic thinking clashed with the choreographed effect of sped up time on the body, thereby illuminating the present human condition.
The Hope for New Narrative
The present hope for integration was made visceral through the idiosyncratic U.S. debut of a delightful Polish avant-garde troupe engaged in a self-aware flirtation through movement. Dada von Bzdulow Theater’s “Several Witty Observations” at La MaMa E.T.C. seduced through the engagement of character even before letting audiences through the lobby doors to experience a spirited gender juxtaposition of two air mattresses.
The highly expressive and individualistic bodies and faces of this trio spoke legions about how dance today remains regimented in its quest for newness. Why not just let go and express oneself in the “costume” of everyday street clothes, they seemed to be asking as they became ever more interactive with the audience. Coming from an expression turned inside out they made a point of dancing to their own rhythms even as they revealed a transparent struggle for integration.
The hope for this movement was in evidence on New Year’s Day 2007 at the Bowery Poetry Club. Thaddeus Rutkowski delivered a celebratory New Year’s Day poem in which personal narrative was integrated with a universal quest for spiritual integration. Born into a bi-racial family, this author’s long experimentation with personal narrative developed out of performing his poetry; for this reason, he claims his writing is necessarily personal.
In the immediacy of live performance so natural it appears to be spontaneous, New Narrative organically absorbs original forms in order to embrace a universal search for unity between the opposites. In an outer world turned topsy-turvy by the 20th century breakdown of patriarchal archetypes, shouldn’t we be looking for some crystal clear coherence in art? Tossing aside identity concerns to leap into the authenticity of personal narrative is the process by which a new paradigm reaches the collective consciousness. After all, if artists don’t care to express where they stand in this flux, why should audiences willing to listen?