BLESSED, choreographed by Meg Stuart (an ex-pat now living in Europe), was performed at New York Live Arts last week. Her work is somewhat enigmatic in part due to the rarity of her stateside performances. BLESSED has a particularly ambitious conceit and set (designed by Doris Dziersk). A compact utopia—a small house, palm tree, and swan—is rendered in cardboard, inhabited by the guileless Francisco Camacho. Dressed in crisp whites and shower shoes, he exaggeratedly robo-marches around his domain, elbows and knees at perfect 90 degree angles. It begins to rain, and in alarmingly short order, the palm tree wilts, droops, and crumples to the ground. The sleigh-sized swan’s head sags sadly to one side, and the roof buckles in the center, but doesn’t give way entirely, at least for awhile.
Evoking Katrina’s aftermath (Stuart was born in New Orleans), Camacho spray paints neon pink words on the remaining hut wall, but as soon as he’s done, it caves further. He wriggles out of his whites and into garb more appropriate to survival, including a camouflage t-shirt and an elaborate wig/mask. As his environs continues to erode quickly, he attempts to salvage any useful cardboard to fashion makeshift shelter, using scraps as blankets until they, too, dissolve. It rains relentlessly—the weather inside now paralleling the cold, rainy winter night outside, evoking Beckett at his best. The lights (by Jan Maertens) dim to an inky murk, but it’s pierced by the sudden emergence of Katomi Nishiwaki, dressed like a Vegas showgal, who struts around the perimeter of the island where Camacho alone is trapped. Shiny and self-possessed, she’s oblivious to anything but preening for the audience. Abraham Hurtado also bursts the bubble, stepping right out of the audience and dressing Camacho in a variety of outfits before he settles on tighty-whities and a see-through raincoat, accessorized by a frightening brace used to spread one’s lips during dental work, presumably.
Set to Hahn Rowe’s ambient score, it could be a parable for many situations we now face, most obviously environmental (global warming and its presumably related chaotic events such as tsunamis, hurricanes, and flooding); economic; or political. But we empathize with Camacho’s sorry state—getting soaked to the bone literally and metaphorically, with nowhere to hide, watching his entire world dissolve into ephemera. And yet, like Beckett’s finest, he survives, for better or worse.