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Flash Review 1, 10-28: Mindfulness
Raising 'Cain' with Artus/Company Gabor Goda

By Chris Dohse
Copyright 2004 Chris Dohse

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NEW YORK -- In Artus/Company Gabor Goda's "Cain's Hat," seen October 20 at the Kitchen, four actor/dancers engage in a series of impenetrable acts, sometimes like a game of Mumbly Peg, where two participants see who can throw a knife closest to the other's feet. A dare runs through these rituals. Some kind of justice or possible reward might hang in the balance. But their behavior seems driven by powerlessness and the panic and fear that it causes.

Simple costuming and props are manipulated to great imaginative effect to transform the players into a multitude of characters; the stage often looks like there are more than four bodies on it. The set is dominated by a pile of rocks, laid into a rectangle about the size of a human grave, into which metal poles the color of verdigris are inserted.

Hovering above all, a fifth performer hums, mumbles, mutters and stutters. She seems a sinister Mother Ginger; God knows what-all could be gathered under her long ladder-like skirt. Is she a priestess or some kind of judge, evaluating and commenting on the distant machinations of her busy sycophants? Her polyrhythmic tones fall somewhere between the vocal filigree of Meredith Monk and Diamanda Galas and sometimes approach the vulnerability of Jane Siberry.

Even though the action often depends on split-second timing and there are multiple opportunities for things to fall apart, there's no particular thrill in it. The next night at American Ballet Theatre, a certain male principal's grip on his ballerina slips for a moment in Tudor's "Pillar of Fire," and this seems quite a bit more pulse-accelerating. Or perhaps all the tacky daredevilry of reality television (no matter how I try to block it out, this crap still leaks into my cultural reservoir) has dulled my senses. Instead, I'm touched by the space of trust that materializes. What clarifies, rising above the mechanics of things like a separate narrative, is the detailed attention the performers pay to the smallest of their gestures. As with sports, in some instances the physical payoff of the action becomes privileged over the specific path of its attack. Somehow a fragility emerges. And a rich connection of human relationship.

Whatever plot might be inherent in the activities seems moot. One character repeatedly tries to communicate to his peers in a series of urgent grunts, noises and tics. Maybe it's a language. Another assumes an assigned position, a five-pointed balance atop the metal poles (knees, feet and forehead) like a broken dog returning to its cage.

The physical vocabulary is a pastiche of possible influences. From this Hungarian company, one might expect a certain bleak translation of the Western post-modern technique that now flows freely into its vicinity. I guess I ought to use the word Kafkaesque to describe this physically challenging yet emotionally spare style, since I'm not often given the chance to use the word and it is so geographically accurate. I thought I also saw Tai Chi or Karate; a whole motif looked like Edouard Lock.

Because the characters evidence such care for the obscure games they engage in, tenderness is evoked. The lingering effect is a focus on the only thing we can ever have agency over in the bewildering flow of power of our wider social and cultural fabric: The choice to engage mindfully in the task at hand.

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