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Flash Review 2, 9-19: Deja Vu All Over Again
"Les Spectacle...": Old Recipes in The Kitchen

By Ursula Eagly
Copyright 2000 Ursula Eagly

When promises of avant-garde deliver only old-guard, it's not hard to feel put out. "Les Spectacle Vivants Sample," part of the Downtown Arts Festival: Contemporary French Art and Performance, presented well-crafted, well-performed work by Xavier Le Roy, Grand Magasin, and Claudia Triozzi at The Kitchen over the weekend. Yet all three pieces were dominated by a 1960s interest in task-based movement and in the experience of time. If these works do indeed represent "new performance trends from France," it doesn't say much for the originality of current French performance.

Xavier Le Roy's witty "Self-Unfinished" presented the most novel material and, since it was first on the program, also benefited from a fresh audience. A table, a chair, and a curiously silent boombox shared the space with Le Roy as he sat, stood, walked, lay, and eventually took off all his clothing while contorting himself into curious positions. While the piece progressed extremely slowly, Le Roy rewarded his viewers' patience with comic optical illusions. These tricks, like the well-known two profiles/hourglass illusion, drew on the play of black and white. Against black walls and a white floor, Le Roy wore black pants and a black shirt purled over his head and arms. With both hands and feet on the floor, his pale midriff faded into the white background and the two black garments morphed into a woman in a skirt dancing with a man in pants.

Le Roy also created illusions based on technology. Beginning seated at a black chair with hands resting on a white table, Le Roy moved one limb at a time, accompanying himself with mechanical sounds. This scene was so meticulously performed that it resembled a computer-animation short. In a similar vein, an extremely slow backwards walk looked like a videotape played in reverse slow motion.

The audience was a bit exhausted when Grand Magasin began "Le meilleur moment" an hour later. As the two performers announced, this work attempted "60 moments of absence lasting from one to sixty seconds." Alternatingly, one completed various exercises, often at a large wooden desk centerstage, while the other sat at a desk downstage left with a timer. The tasks were humorous and nonsensical, such as 59 seconds of pounding, 56 more seconds of pounding, 22 seconds to imagine the floor is black, and 9 seconds to paint it white again. The timing created a pleasant rhythm and the quirkiness kept the tone light. The piece did, however, go on for an unjustifiably long time.

Yet another hour later, the audience schlepped to the gymnasium at the General Theological Seminary for Claudia Triozzi's intensely performed "Park." It was worth the walk to see the old-fashioned gym, but for an audience that has already seen many pieces outside of a proscenium stage, the location presented few benefits. Vying for a sightline, or resigned to not seeing, the audience followed Triozzi as she moved between five installations where she performed various household tasks. At one station, she sat a table, put glittery pasties on her nipples, scooped mud into silver dishes, and placed the dishes on a conveyer belt, which carried them off the edge of the table. All the while, she pressed her high-heeled shoe into a piece of bread, which she pressed into an electric heating element until the smell of burning bread filled the room. These exercises explored territory already forged by visual artist Martha Rosler in the 1960s with works like "The Semiotics of the Kitchen." While this style of feminism was revolutionary at one time, its focus on domesticity and heterosexuality now seems outdated and unproductive.

Three hours since an eager audience packed The Kitchen, a notably smaller crowd straggled exhausted out of the Seminary doors.


Ursula Eagly is currently making a performance piece about science and myth. She also writes on dance and visual art for Art News and *surface magazine.


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