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Flash Review 2, 4-29: Pointless from 'eternity'
Holy Body Tattoo Fails to Leave its Mark

By Asimina Chremos
Copyright 2000 Asimina Chremos

CHICAGO -- Hmm. I just got home from the Holy Body Tattoo show at Columbia College and popped open an e-mail from a Radical Faerie, queer activist friend who always signs his messages "with pleasure in the struggle." Ironic, considering I just sat through the disappointingly patriarchal, decidedly serious, and aggressively harsh "55 minutes of punishing movement" (The Washington Post) of "our brief eternity, an evening-length work portraying the self-destruction that is inevitably part of the effort towards progress." (HBT press release).

"our brief eternity" was abstract and offered no specific context for itself. At best, it was modernist, unadorned, and simple in presentation. At worst, it was a sort of '80s Tai-Bo display of angry modern dancers. Given the purported themes of the work, it could have been a powerful, tragic piece. The work however showed us no descent into robotic hell, no tragedy of souls leaving living bodies, no fighting to keep dignity, or scrabbling without it. The thing is, there was not much to keep my attention on this dance of people who have already lost their souls to the Big Daddy of Imaginary Digital Future, struggling to stay on the track of some undisclosed type of progress.

The perfectly rehearsed movement (by Noam Gagnon, Dana Gingras, and Jean-Yves Theriault) was stiff and sharp, and began promisingly with inventive floor work, sort of like metal Bartenieff Fundamentals: interesting angles of arms and legs, twists and rolls with clear spatial intent, bound flow, and directness. The white floor covering seemed to have a magnetic effect, pulling the dancers' bodies down despite their reaches upwards. This devolved quickly into standing and the language of stereotypical male aggression, punch the air slap yourself lie down, gasp noisily, scream over the music, and roll really fast, over and over. The movement qualities hardly changed dynamic or range throughout the whole show. The performers' faces were either blank or fierce.

For some reason I expected Holy Body Tattoo to be a large company, but it was a trio. Two female dancers, one a little taller, one a little smaller, a male dancer middle-sized, all Caucasian with brown hair (Gagnon, Gingras, and Susan Elliot). The costumes of nondescript black trousers and wife-beater undershirts were de-feminizing, not masculinizing, to the women who wore bras well covered by their tops. The man of course looked manly and hard-nippled. A friend at the show thought that the company would be all-women, and he said he kept fantasizing that was the case throughout the show and we discussed how that would significantly change our impressions of the work.

"our brief eternity" included film projection with text and images of the dance (William Morrison et. al.), and appropriately loud techno/industrial music (Theriault). The glow of the movie/TV/video screen backdrop, the iconostasis of our age, seductively obscured the charisma of the dancers sweating in real space and time before it. As usual in these situations I chose to focus on the live performers, so I missed much of how the words of cyberpunk author William Gibson and film-radio writer Christopher Halcrow interplayed with the movement.

There was an S&M duet early in the show where the man, dominant, cruelly pressed the taller woman's face into the floor. How many times do I have to look at that kind of shit on stage? IT'S NOT HIP OR COOL OR INTERESTING OR ENLIGHTENING AND IT DOESN'T TELL ME ANYTHING ABOUT "the resilience of the human spirit in the face of today's relentless societal pressures..." (HBT press release). I suppose that the resilience of the human spirit was represented by the fact that the dancers kept going and did not collapse of exhaustion at the end of the performance. This did not say anything to me about the humor, depression, compassion, hopelessness, or creativity of humans under severe pressure. The most human, spiritual thing this choreography offered was a lot of sweat.

The repetitive, violent choreography did not bring home to my heart the tragedy described by Marshall McLuhan, quoted in the program: "The new integral electronic culture creates a crisis of identity, a vacuum of the self, which generates tremendous violence -- a violence that is simply an identity quest, private or corporate, social or commercial." I read here that McLuhan (writing 40-odd years ago, for goodness sake!) describes a form of psychic violence, a stripping of the soul -- which could lead to physical violence perhaps -- but is that the point? Perhaps the members of Holy Body Tattoo too easily equate psychic with physical violence. Anyway, what's the use of showing us more violence on the stage when we live in such a violent world? I remain nonplussed and unmoved. The members of Holy Body Tattoo should go learn to dance the Son from Merian Soto. (See Flash Review 3, 4-10: How to Dance.)

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