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Flash Review Dispatch, 12-5: Searching for Avant-Garde Ooze in Boulder
In New Works Museum Program, it's the Toilet Water, and a Lot More

By Taryn Packheiser
Copyright 2002 Taryn Packheiser

BOULDER -- Where else can you walk into the atrium of a performance space and eavesdrop on a heavy conversation oriented around the correct balance between soy and dairy? Where does it snow before Halloween, but thaw as soon as the Sun shines its melting rays? ("Watch out, Daedalus and Icarus!" warns local choreographer Michelle Spencer Ellsworth.) The Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art is in just such a location. Converted from an old mill, with a rickety exposed freight elevator still connecting the bi-level building, BMOCA provides not only the best, but also the only multidisciplinary modern art venue in Boulder, Colorado. At times it is surprising that Boulder is lacking in edgy and experimental fine arts, but when one examines both the populace and the hidden cracks in the surface it is possible to understand how the inevitable avant-garde can seep through the social schisms with enduring pert.

The 2002 Fall Season at BMOCA has provided Flatiron art seekers with a great sense of burgeoning investigational works. A recent shared evening with choreographer Cara Reeser and interdisciplinary playwright Robert Quillen Camp was quite a fresh treat indeed. 'Quill' stole the show with his theoretically deconstructed plots and Brechtian devices. As a prelude for what was to come, Michelle Spencer Ellsworth (by no surprise a personal friend of Quillencamp) showcased herself on another recent weekend in a similar split show, New Work 2002, with her theoretic structural and metaphoric devices.

New Work 2002 is a showcase of, indeed, new work. The first half of the program I saw features menopausal monologues of two misunderstood feminist artists in search of acceptable female identities. Nancy Cranbourne and Patti Dobrowlski play a tag team game of sustained personal linear dramatic monologues which, at times, burst into a sudden Beastie Boy timing match of finishing each other's thoughts and sentences. The nostalgic stories of "Mrs. Schwartz and Dober: Show and Tell for Grownups" are choreographed with tight near space gestures and full-bodied pedestrian traveling transitions. Diagonals must be a spatial pattern favorite for director Molly Thompson, for I found myself whipping my neck from side to side in order to keep the actresses in clear visibility within the small performance venue. The two shortly coifed buff ladies work well together, but their relationship is never clarified through language that is verbal or physical. Perhaps both women are still hurt by the past, sexually unsure, and seemingly resolute to make it as great artists. The lack of clarity in their shed bare lives could be both cause and product of the proscenium space they share.

Multiple climaxes of revelation are attempted in the duet, but the most satisfying acting height comes at the finish in a monologue where mother/daughter relationships are discerned with mature emotional alacrity. Nancy Cranbourne proves herself not only as a national jazz dance choreographer, but also as a comedian and a serious dramatist in her concluding monologue. "Mrs. Schwartz and Dober: Show and Tell for Grownups" emerges as a highly entertaining feminine perspective on family, friends, and artistic careers through its casual and straightforward approach.

After the first half of the show, we are encouraged to get a chai tea to go at the adjacent Dushanbe Tea House, in order to allow for the setup of Michelle Spencer Ellsworth's portion of the shared performance. I did not opt for the tea, but I did get a chance to peruse the galleries downstairs, which currently feature four simultaneous fine art exhibitions. It is a great perk to get both visual art and performance for one admission price.

In the latter half of New Works 2002, the quest towards understanding female identity is carried through with a Zena warrior style by Ellsworth. In "6 Points," she characterizes herself as a post-structuralist gladiator who refuses to either denounce or accept her beliefs. Her constant contradictive actions put me on a roller coaster of a performance narrative that inspired a revisit to Peter Barry's "Beginning Theory: An Introduction to Literary and Cultural Theory." For those out of the theory loop, Ellsworth's work may seem to be irrational and incredibly complex.

Inundation of literal and abstract information takes the viewer on a trip of evaluative normalcy. The smoking of toilet paper, almost illiterate movement phrases, and toilet water drinking seem normal by the end of the piece. In fact, I was moved to go home and try some toilet water after witnessing Ellsworth's analysis of how beliefs are constituted.

"Ed: The Word Made Dress" epitomizes Ellsworth's ability to remain distanced and yet completely understandable in her values. The explicative journey through the construction and demonstration of a dress that provides safety and problem solving in this complex post-modern world sets this philosophical diva on a roll that encompasses a complete history of pentagons, uterus therapy, and a reenactment of a chapter from "The Odyssey." Did I forget to mention the color coordination, answers to eliminating racism, torture boxes, and Fibonachi allusions? The extemporaneous logical ramblings all make incredible sense. The ability for the piece to read as a neurotic infomercial is uncanny. Sign me up because I literally felt jealously sad that I don't have an "Ed" to live in.

Both of Ellsworth's pieces are incredibly tragic, but probably the funniest I've seen since my last trip to the Upright Citizens Brigade in Manhattan. I'm still wondering how exactly the lovable ooze of the avant-garde seeps through the cracks of Boulder. But I would much rather wonder how it got here than worry about ordering some mail order experimental theater. BMOCA is running on full steam this season. I hope it keeps pushing for more physical non-narrative theater and eventually a full evening of dance. In a town where "The Nutcracker" still rules and modern companies start and fall within a year's time, BMOCA provides the greatest resource located yet. We will consider this a challenge.

New Works 2002 concludes this weekend. For more information, please visit the BMOCA web site.

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