Faye Driscoll is the latest artist to figure out how to use DTW’s big theater to best advantage. Her incredible dancers contributed greatly to the success of There is so much mad in me, which ran through last weekend. Driscoll says it concerns “a craving to feel, to connect through the vehicle of extreme experience.” And experience we did as the performers moved among us, celebrating, bullying, taking bows. By the end, we felt implicated in the performance, rather than simply observers.
Nikki Zialcita, a compact dynamo, tiptoed forward, supported by Michael Helland. She seemed positively exhilarated at every weight shift, shrieking as if each tiny step were a thrilling plunge off a cliff. The other eight dancers surrounded her, and we weren’t sure if they were intimidating her or supporting her. These blurred lines between terror and pleasure, love and abuse (tickling is a fine example), pervade the evening’s proceedings.
Driscoll raises questions about what qualifies as dance. Much of the movement is action rather than what we understand to be traditional choreography. Other sections, including an expressionistic solo performed by Lindsay Clark, show Driscoll’s history as a performer with Doug Varone. Then there are powerful dramatic sections based on talk/reality shows, with Adaku Utah channeling Oprah, enacting the car-giveaway episode, which elicited from the cast blood-curdling screams so loud, and physical contortions so sudden and extreme, that it was hard to tell whether they were from pain or ecstasy. (Jane Comfort also paralleled reality TV and torture in her outstanding work, American Rendition, last year.) The theater went black and only a flashlight provided light for a man terrorizing the cowering dancers. He harangued an audience member (a plant) to sit on the floor as well, just before the house lights blazed to an unbearable brightness.
Jennie MaryTai Liu, as Naomi Campbell, prodded the performers to reveal their innermost secrets. It felt like the old game telephone, evolving and taking on more and more absurd premises, and yet the ludicrous nature of the genre said that anything might be true. The group formed two columns and jogged around the stage in different formations as one or two broke off to perform an action or dance. The jogging took on the air of a military exercise—were we watching dance, or prep for a war? Or both?
Set designer Sara C. Walsh pushed the stage nearly to the side walls, which were covered with plastic. Brandon Wolcott designed the excellent sound (with music from Ian McIntosh and Michael Wall). Amanda K. Ringger designed the powerful lighting, which included bands of intense color lining the upstage floor. Lily Gold, Tony Orrico, Jacob Slominski, and Jesse Zaritt rounded out the talented cast which seemed to give us everything they had. Indeed, we felt.
Image: Faye Driscoll’s There is such much mad in me. Photo by Yi Chun Wu.