I love me some ballet, but focusing away from traditional dance vocabularies, movement can be generated in many ways. Two shows I saw this past week demonstrated how artists use inventive methods as both a means and an end—Daniel Linehan’s Zombie Aporia and Michael Kliën’s Choreography for Blackboards. These were, respectively, part of the American Realness (tbspMGMT) and COIL (PS 122) festivals, timed to entice the multiple eyeballs of the Association of Performing Arts Presenters (APAP) conference-goers (as well as Under the Radar).
Zombie Aporia, at the Abrons Art Center, was performed by Linehan (who studied at PARTS and is based in Brussels) with Salka Ardal Rosengren and Thibault Lac. Working with spoken and sung words as much as dance, at times they took directives from a laptop, or one another; recombining verses, moving in a naively appealing style. This childlike aura was amplified through sections that evoked games like Simon Says led by an orchestra conductor, and follow-the-bouncing-ball sing alongs. In an especially poignant section, verses scrolled on a laptop controlled by Rosengren, eyes closed. She held Lac’s hand as he acted as the human microphone, loudly speaking the words that Linehan, on tiptoe and reading from the laptop, whispered into his ear. This simple, interdependent poetry of this part contrasted with other more robust scenes, with Rosengren in particular forcefully reciting text as Lac created vibrato by squeezing her body, or whipping her forward and back. Sound and movement were inseparable, performative agents of a powerful curiosity and intelligence.
Choreography for Blackboards (which Kliën created with Steve Valk) took place at the Invisible Dog Art Center in Brooklyn. The dogma specified six two-sided blackboards kitted out with chalk, a pail of water, a sponge, and a towel; diverse, pre-selected participants ranging from Occupy activists to scientists; set time periods within which each followed certain guidelines for their drawings; an open audience format that encouraged moving about; and a varied soundscore by Volkmar Kliën. The concept held far more potential than the experience, at least for the viewer. Observing that after everyone erased their boards at the one-hour point, it was easier to note that each artist then keyed off of another’s line as it reached the board’s edge, so if you created a mental array, they’d collectively create one big, interconnected work. The pseudo-salon/classroom atmosphere and audience-as-backdrop bogged down the performance in self-consciousness. And it was difficult not to think of Joseph Beuys’ blackboard lecture/performances, so deeply couched in his political/artistic theory that here could only be hinted at by the resumés of the participants.
It wasn’t until the very end when Eugenia Manwelyan (urban planner and OWS activist) seemed to transcend the confines, repeatedly smearing water down the blackboard with her hands, creating a sort of yearning, grasping, invisible crowd, then lying on her folded knees like a supplicant. She carefully cleaned her area and then sat down and bathed her chalk-muddy feet in a practical ritual that evoked alms (and, most likely coincidentally, the cleansing performances of Mierle Ukeles) before putting on her socks and boots, conflating the quotidien with the spiritual.