Dance, Theater / Performance

Colony (Christ Church Neighborhood House, 10Jan14)

What they say it is:

Mesmerizing and hypnotic. Mechanical and incessant. Colony considers both the human and the herd. Through an intense and athletic commitment to uniformity, the work is a choreographic investigation of repetition, duration and synchronization where differing states of awareness and being emerge. Implicating the audience as critical to the creation of the performative event, spectators confront their own expectations of seeing and being seen in a shared space. Distance, proximity, power and vulnerability are at play in this dance where your role as watcher is balanced by the tension of being watched.

 NEW Clay Says graphic Ernie

I can’t begin without remarking on how surreal it feels to return to Christ Church; as regular readers of this blog will recall, our Rubblebucket-infused wedding reception (or as it’s apparently known to the staff of Christ Church, the “Rock and Roll Wedding”) took place in this very venue just one short year ago.  For Tara and I, it’s a room infused with personal history—much less our own awesome memories, but also for all the great art we’ve witnessed in this space (The Devil and Mr. Punch, Bang, etc).  For me, simply entering the grand ballroom and then the upper-level show rooms made me feel completely time-transported, kind of spun around, mentally juxtaposed between the present evening and the deepest love for the pasts we’ve shared in this special building.

After a short wait in the ballroom, the audience (approximately 100 people) were asked to head up a rear staircase and enter, one by one, into a dark-and-ominously-soundscaped room.  Two shapes—women in dancing leotards—were running in place by the entrance, backlit by a bright, intentionally blinding light.  Their movements were simultaneous and choreographed, robotic, and unchanging.  As the entire audience filtered in, the pair of women never stopped their incessant movement—to me, a dance-ignorant observer, it looked like some kind of vaudeville-esque jogging, only lacking the smiles or warmth.  The music pounded and pulsed, repeating through the same mechanical loop for a solid 10 minutes.

entering the show (apologies for poor photo quality--my phone is not a good camera)

entering the show (apologies for poor photo quality–my phone is not a good camera)

First impression: these women have a lot of energy and stamina.  The program had warned that the show was an “investigation of repetition”, so I wasn’t particularly surprised when the introductory jogging routine went on for much longer than the time it took for us to enter.  Audience members shuffled around the dark, empty room, standing wherever we liked, beset with the overloud soundtrack, watching the dance and wondering what came next.

Over the course of perhaps 45 minutes, the routine morphed between short, predominantly repetitive numbers similar to the opening (the women posing across the room from each other, singing out repeating lines of song, the duo standing together and announcing “Once” more than 30 times in a row), these scenes co-mingling with some forcefully “invasive” scenes where audience members were drawn into the performers’ orbits.  Or rather, the performers orbited into us.  As above, there were no chairs or seating in the space—it was up to us where we chose to see the show—and much of Colony involved the two women moving about us, through us, even right up against us…whether or not we’d invited them to do so.  Slow movement, forceful gazes, and direct interaction—it was all on the table.  Predictably, some members of the audience felt unsure how to react to these moments—Am I in the way?  Should I laugh or remain stoic? Is everyone looking at me?—while others stood their ground, absorbing the impact of a performance that comes to them—like, really to them.  In the show’s climax, the dancers circulated the room in opposing orbits, confronting select members of the audience in face-to-face intimacies and whispering (what appeared to be) “I’m in love with you”.  Not being a recipient of such treatment myself (my legs were aching and I needed to squat against a side wall for much of the show), it was fun to watch, but I felt like a bit of an outsider.  Old man’d by my shoddy legs again!

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up close and personal

Overall, my reaction to this show is complicated and slightly uncertain—perhaps an ideal, even intended takeaway—but it leaves me with more vague observations than any concrete review.  The show is set around questions of space vs. intimacy and raises a contrast between individualism and togetherness, but it isn’t a very robust or expansive exploration.  It’s a short piece of under an hour, and much of that time is re-re-echoing themes and a repetitive ‘we’re-really-driving-the-point-home’ postmodernism.  See, as someone who’s had a great deal of experience with shows that require sensory endurance or an open-minded regard for experimentation and uncertainty, I’m a decent candidate for the thoughtful discomfort that Colony wants to explore.  The show sets up contrasts between individualist and group identities, describes the ironies of love and intimacy against the darker inclinations of a brutal world, and proposes some simple questions about security, personal space, and the experience of watching/being watched.  These are all great themes, and Colony, though not particularly long or complex, is an icy-cold dreamscape where we get a rapid-fire tour of these concepts.

The show is a burst of quiet interrogation, an opportunity for some reflective meditation (or even escapist zen), a “dig deep and feel the runner’s high” kind of experience—but for this reviewer, is only a starting point for much bigger topics.  I’m open to hallucination and minimalism, and I like talking about the dichotomies of me vs. us, but if we’re gonna go there, lets go bigger and badder.  It’s appealing and confrontational, and at the same time, too brief and simplistic.  If we’re gonna raise these topics, I almost expect something new to be said—and I admit what a tall order that is.  My walkaway on Colony was that the show adeptly raises ideas while also allowing a space for conscious reflection, but minimalism and repetition aren’t satisfactory substitutions for, well, more.  More ideas, more conclusions, or at least more twists on these universal themes of loneliness, love, apartness, and togetherness.  I have no problem with a show proscribing thoughtfulness and even transcendence-through-boredom, but when I realize that the fundamental messages are fairly straightforward and somewhat obvious, I’m left wanting a little bit more.

In the end, I liked it.  Perhaps I missed the point, maybe I’m too fixated with a search for some conclusive statement, or maybe Colony was a good time and I’m just some critic shooting spitballs from the back row.  A low price and a short run-time meant that my most predominant reaction, as we headed back into the night and toward my citywide-favorite vegan cheesesteak (Monk’s Cafe … MMMMMM) was “that show was cool, these women are amazingly strong and endurable performers,  and maybe Colony will lead to bigger and bolder explosions in the future”.

NEW Tara Says Graphic

The repetitive nature of Colony left plenty of space for me to conduct a rich mental assessment of the event, even while it was taking place.  One of my first thoughts was regarding their costuming/aesthetic.  The striped leotards, if not those available at American Apparel, closely resemble items of this brand.  High French cut-bottom with a low back and long sleeves . . . is this item of clothing supposed to make us think of the pedophilic American Apparel ads featuring tween females in limited clothing and highly sexualized poses?  I also wonder if there were grooming discussions–that high French cut and all it implies?  I also assume that there must have also been some double-sided tape action to prevent the bottom from becoming a thong midshow.

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Ok, with that off my chest, I understand my thoughts above may seem a bit trite, but they were my first thoughts while watching the show–there had to have been at least one significant discussion about costuming between the performers.

I enjoyed the lack of separation of space between performers and actors.  The entire performance area was utilized, making each audience member a part of the show- a Colony.  This also allowed me to enjoy the nervous twittering of participants when presented with an unexpected situation in which they were unsure of the right response.   Where they ‘supposed’ to move away from the performers?  What about when you were forced to lock eyes with one of the women dancers and be told “I’m in love with you”?  In fact, how often in western culture do we really look at each other?  I was surprised by my emotional response to the word “love” during the show.  It was a kind and welcome feeling.

As the dancers chanted and repeated the line “One singular sensation” (derived from A Chorus Line), my brain went on to sing the rest of the song . . . one singular sensation, every little step she takes, one thrilling combination, every move that she makes, one smile and suddenly nobody else will do you know you’ll never be lonely with you know who.  So, it seems as though this echoing refrain serves to reflect some of the ideas Clay mentioned above—ideas of loneliness, individuals and groups.

Clay also mentions the repeating of the word “once”.  I liked how the performers entered this moment– they started with one singular “sssssssssssssss” and morphed into the word “once”, which when repeated, to my ear, began to resemble the word “wants”.  There was also a later moment during the show when they repeated “one singular sensation”, now elongating the sssssssss sound, and it transitioned perfectly into the music they had been playing throughout the show.  Overall, Colony did an excellent job with combining the musical, verbal and movement transitions.

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