Gaff Aff, the first performance in the newly renovated Jerome Robbins Theater at the Baryshnikov Arts Center after the Wooster Group’s North Atlantic, defies genres. It’s tempting to call the work (through May 8th) by the Swiss duo of Zimmerman and de Perrot dance, but there isn’t any, at least along familiar lines—it’s more movement theater. Or nouveau cirque, but while there’s humor, there’s an equal amount of Beckett. Or art installation, as the set is populated with banal looking yet ingenious multifunctional objects made of cardboard, fiberboard, and wood, that whirl around on a two-piece turntable. Whatever you want to call it, it’s coy, goofy, and entertaining.
Dimitri de Perrot plays the straight man, sitting to the side at a few turntables, studiously spinning and scratching. (In preparation, he selects music and sounds and presses them onto vinyl.) Martin Zimmerman is the clown and main performer, alternately manipulating the props and trying to keep his feet and his head facing the same direction—no easy task when the turntable’s two sections move in different rotations. His persona is the familiar grey-suited office worker, so ineffective that his briefcase seems in command of his actions; so disconnected to the real world that he doesn’t fall when his chair is pulled out from under him. His rubbery face and go-for-broke behavior recall a young Jerry Lewis or Chevy Chase—ironic because this kind of unironic work feels like it could never be done in the US now.
Zimmerman adds more and more props to his tiny spinning universe—life-sized pictures of his headless body on easels, making an “army of one” to mock or boss around; a desk and chair; a hinged panel with die-cut pop-outs that become cats, chairs, lamps. There’s no story to speak of, but enough gee-whiz moments to fill the hour. One of the show’s most compelling scenes comes early on, when de Perrot’s worktable suddenly swings toward the center and becomes a giant stylus arm to Zimmerman’s huge turntable, turning the audience of jaded NY theater-goers into kids, if just for a moment.
Image: Gaff Aff by Martin Zimmermann & Dimitri de Perrot. Photo by Mario Del Curto.