I’ll admit it—I have the attention span of a flea, painstakingly cultivated from years of tv, multi-tasking, and computer work. So when I sat down to watch Brian Rogers’ and Madeline Best’s Selective Memory at the Chocolate Factory last night (through Sep 18), it took a whole lot of concentration to watch the first 20 minutes, which primarily features Best’s face projected onto a horizontal, door-sized panel that hangs in front of her cameo as she stands in one place, shifting her head angle very slightly every now and then. Best (director of photography, creation, performance, choreography and video) stands in the cup of a seamless, white, omega-shaped scrim. Rogers (concept, direction, sound) sits at a computer to one side, working controls, proximate enough to be in one’s field of vision as he focuses intently on Best and casually sips from a drink.
At one point, that side of boredom, this stillness seeped into my bones, as it seemed to do for the entire SRO audience, to the extent that all movement—coughing, throat clearing, and paper rustling—ceased and time stood still, or convincingly felt like it. In the concentrated quiet, details emerged. Best’s face gradually enlarged, as cuts between two cameras swapped the slightly differing angles onscreen. (She has two earrings in each ear, a nose ring, and a tattoo on one ankle, for starters.) Just as I’m counting her jewelry, she starts to stare at us with now huge eyes, even though her actual head is obstructed. At first it’s unnerving, but then I thought, she’s looking into a camera, not at us. And yet the effect was startling, as if she finally realized that she was being watched and decided to push back.
More than halfway through the 50 minute work—more performance than choreography—Best begins to move more broadly, and (relatively) faster. Her live body moves one way as her projected head moves another. The fluid lighting (by Chloe Z. Brown) works with the scrim to sculpt the space around Best, and Rogers’ stealthy score ebbs and flows. Then comes the well-earned payoff—full-body projections of Best appear behind her real self, at first against white. Then a lush green garden comes into focus, and the effect is nearly intoxicating after the hermetic, sere stuff we’d seen up til then. Best recedes up the garden path, the camera tilts up to the sky, and the tableau shatters into a dissolve. This is by no means an easy piece to watch, yet this epiphany of pleasure felt worth it.
The superb production elements are essential: the gorgeous set (by Brad Kisicki), lighting, sound design (Mike Rugnetta did technology design and sound consultation), and projections reveal a meticulousness by the collaborators, as well as the luxury of time spent in this Long Island City space where Rogers is also artistic director, with a promising fall season.
Image: Madeline Best in Selective Memory. Photo by Paula Court.