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Flash Review 1, 8-26:
20 Womyn in Search of a Dramaturg
By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2000 The Dance Insider
THE HANDY-DANDY INTERNET
MAG I JUST GOT FROM EARTHLINK HAS AN ARTICLE WHICH SAYS THAT WRITING
E-MAILS IN ALL CAPS LIKE THIS IS THE EQUIVALENT OF SHOUTING, AND
THAT YOU SHOULDN'T DO IT BECAUSE IT UPSETS PEOPLE. I'M DOING IT
NOW TO GIVE YOU A VISCERAL SENSE OF WHAT IT FELT LIKE LISTENING
TO THE DIATRIBE THAT TRIED TO PASS AS PERFORMANCE LAST NIGHT AT
THE CHARAS/EL BOHIO BIMBO RIVAS PERFORMANCE SPACE, IN THE ESTRO
TRIBE'S "MENSTRUATION, MANIPULATION, MUTILATION; HERSTORY."
HEARTFELT,YES. ART, NO, NO no.
Now then: I am not averse
to being assaulted in the theater, as long as it's done with artistic
integrity, convincing me that the artist has done the work to forge
their opinions, their rage, into art. Thus, when Sara Hook, in "Valeska's
Vitriol," spat at me, a bit of Sara-slime in my eye was a small
price to pay for such a genuinely theatrical experience. (See
Flash Review, 4-20: Over the Top.) And the action was totally
justified by the character. Sara was truly channeling the '30s German
cabaret dancer. Similarly, I'm not averse to politics in art --
whether it be advancing the cause of feminism or any other ism.
But what I will always protest is when performer/creators think
it is enough to simply preach their gospel to the already converted,
without transmuting it into art. That may make it lecture, but please,
don't call it art!
Another case in point:
D. Chase Angier. Angier's "Lemons for Loveliness" is in some ways
a total polemic against the images and standards of beauty women
have to live up to. But she coats her bitter pill generously with
sugar -- "Lemons" is a total comic romp thus, of course, melting
any resistant hearts...and then seeping into them with it's righteous
point of view.
When Maura Nguyen Donohue
savaged sexual stereotypes of Asian women in her "Lotus Blossom
Itch," she wasn't savage about it. In fact, from the beginning of
the piece she disarmed anyone who might be resistant -- especially
men! A woman greeted audience members by placing leis around their
wrists. Then three fun guys took us on a sort of tour of, ahem,
"Asian delights." Only after lasciviously joining the tour did we
realize how sickening the sexual stereotypes were. And that Nguyen
was spoofing such needs and images.
Jane Comfort didn't just
get up and rail about the politics that elevated Clarence Thomas,
who some might say was a demonstrated sexual harasser, to the Supreme
Court. She simply presented a biting dance play in which the roles
were reversed -- Thomas and the senators who downplayed the harassment
played by women, Anita Hill by a man.
Many of those in last
night's performance, I note in the program (and from the friend
with whom I attended) are recent graduates of New York University's
Tisch School of the Arts, with a heavy quotient from the Experimental
Theater Wing. This fact shocks me. (And partly accounts for any
rage you might detect in this critique.) These talented (as actors
and singers) young women and their parents likely shelled out $100,000
a pop for this education. Did they not acquire, were they not given,
the means and training to take an earnest political kernel of an
idea and make it theatrically pop? Did they not read Bertolt Brecht,
who made brilliant, innovative, eccentric theater out of radical
ideology? Did they not study the San Francisco Mime Troupe, since
the 1960s the pioneering court jesters of activist theater? Not
by what I saw last night. Instead, we got a sort of bad group therapy
session in which the primal scream was directed at us, as if the
audience were entirely construed of the men who misunderstood, abused,
or raped them. Or, worse, with people who needed to be told that
these things are bad. (With a no-brainer masturbation scene thrown
in for easy laughs and titillation.) When, in fact, the audience
seemed filled with their friends, boyfriends, and parents. What
I saw last night was, at best, a classroom exercise that, forged
into real theater, might eventually become something, but in its
current form is little more than a staged screed.
Towards the end of the
performance, a woman shouts at us: "If you vote for George Bush,
and take away my right to choose, you don't stand with me." To which
I wanted to respond: If you keep shouting at me, I'm not even going
to listen to you.
About this time you may
be wondering why we're reviewing this in a dance publication. Well....guess
what!? The program describes this piece as, in order, "A synthesis
of dance, music, performance art, ritual, poetry, paint, propaganda,
and girl power!!!" Propaganda? Yes. Girl power? Sure. Dance? No.
Moving people around on stage while they flail their arms does not
make it dance. In fact, calling this 100% unreflected invective
any form of art is an insult to artists -- like Hook, Donohue, Angier
and others -- who do the work to deliver their politics in real,
genuine, crafted, worked-at dance. Even those art world agit-propsters
the Gorilla (Guerilla?) Girls take the time to apply real artistic
craft to their campaigns to get the art world to stop ignoring women
artists. Message to the Estro Grrrls: If you want to give a lecture
or hold a therapy session, than call it that. But don't call it
dance, music, performance art, ritual, poetry, or even paint.
"Menstruation" was created
by the performers, the Estro Tribe. The director is Kimberlea A.
Kressal who, in a program note, states: "Why the fuck do we need
yet another play about 'women's issues'? Listen, you're about to
find out.'" Well, I listened, and am left with one question. To
put it in Ms. Kressal's own terms: "What the fuck gives you the
right to call this a play?"
P.S. I am thinking back
now to something called "Cave Theory," which, like "Menstruation..."
is being presented in the Fringe NYC Festival. This sounds like
an intriguing piece in which writer/director/performer Keiko Yamamoto
has tried to express a heady Platonic philosophy in art. I was all
psyched to see this piece last Saturday when a kindly crew member
came out and announced that a strobe light would be utilized. Being
subject to migraines, which can be triggered by strobes, I excused
myself. Now I find myself feeling more open to this piece. A strobe
light, honestly used, at least, as part of an attempt to create
art, seems far less assaultive than a lecture masquerading as art.
In fact, I think I will take my chances with the strobe tonight.
Yamamoto's show gives its final Fringe performance tonight at 6:15
PM, in the Carol Watson Theater of the Charas/El Bohio, 605 E. 9th
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