The Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theatre, better known as REDCAT, launched its 14th Annual NOW Festival featuring three dance/performance art works created during a summer long creative laboratory at REDCAT. The first week of the NOW Festival featured Stacy Dawson Stearns’s gender/word bender LOVE GASOLINE, Jessica Emmanuel’s powerful WITNESSING HER, and Nancy Keystone’s unoriginal UNTITLED COMMUNION. All three works were very different and the finished products uneven.
Stacy Dawson Stearns writes that” LOVE GASOLINE is a physical dialogue with Marcel Duchamp’s ideas and humor via his famous work, The Large Glass.” This extraordinary Abstract art work is also known as The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Even, created in the years 1915 – 1923. One of its uniqueness is that the painting is freestanding, rising over 9 feet tall and 5 feet wide. It is set in glass, allowing one to see through the painting. The Large Glass was also the subject of a collaboration between Merce Cunningham, Jasper Johns and Marcel Duchamp for Cunningham’s 1968 work WALKAROUND TIME.
LOVE GASOLINE involves a video designed by Jonathon Stearns, music by Ian Stahl and Choreography and text by Stacy Dawson Stearns. Stearns’ text evokes gender bending and mind twisting word play. Her writing creates a simultaneous sense of being inside Duchamp’s The Large Glass and outside looking in. With her costumes for the nudes, Stearns seeks, but does not quite accomplish, breaking the stereotypical definitions of gender, but Stacy Dawson Stearns, B. Ehst and Audrey Olmos are wonderful in their roles as the Nudes.
This work begins to feel long about three quarters of the way through because of weak solos for William Tolan Lawrence (The Bachelor Apparatus) and Tyree Marshall (The Bride). Marshall then performs a very shaky vocal solo. She has a good voice and stage presence, but her pitch was often flat while sustaining longer notes. Marshall and Lawrence perform very well in the video, however, which Stearns manages to incorporate beautifully into her work.
LOVE GASOLINE has great potential, but it needs an outside eye to help edit and tighten the work. Performances are uneven and the lip syncing is often clumsy.
Jessica Emmanuel had the entire audience captivated with her very powerful and provocative work WITNESSING HER, a poignant and painful portrait of being a black woman/person in America. Emmanuel begins walking tentatively backwards from upstage center; cautiously feeling her way. Her mood shifts temporarily to humor as she instructs two audience members to draw her outline in white chalk against twin black peg wood stands. As the two stands are turned, it becomes clear that the outlines are like deceased shooting victims seen far too often on city streets. Using red ribbon, Emmanuel describes where bullets (12 in all) entered her body; one missing its mark. It is at this moment that a heavy silence enveloped the audience.
Emmanuel lays out five small dresses along the back of the stage, gently patting each before moving on to the next. She performs a repetitive movement phrase that hints at being shot as she moves across the dresses. This moves seamlessly into solo that evokes fear; not for oneself, but for this woman who struggles to survive in this dangerous environment. Emmanuel next takes on the persona of a junkie, standing on a street corner smoking a reefer before she returns center stage to stand in the red “line of fire”.
WITNESSING HER ends with a heart wrenching display of Emmanuel’s character grieving over the bodies of the little girls who once wore the pretty dresses. As she gathers up each one, her pain and anguish grows louder until her sobs pierce our hearts through the darkness. This is a formidable work and Jessica Emmanuel gives a commanding performance. Appropriately, she takes no curtain call; leaving us engulfed in our awareness. Emmanuel does not over-play her acting, but provokes empathy for her characters while forcing us to take responsibility for America’s treatment of “minorities”.
I cut my artistic teeth in New York City during the art revolution of the 1960s and 1970s, and what Nancy Keystone attempts to accomplish with UNTITLED COMMUNION is not only unoriginal, it has been done brilliantly by artists in New York, Los Angeles and throughout Europe. The work has its moments, as all performance art pieces do, but it suffers greatly from self-indulgence. The screaming of frustration at the beginning works, but breaking through the brown tissue paper was so expected, and Keystone does not even attempt to make it feel original. The pink and gold fairies who show up unexpectedly following the water fall of pixie dust is a nice touch, but their antics soon became tiresome. Costume Designer Lena Sands deserves mention for her creation of the outrageous Elton John inspired figures. I got a giggle out of the taking of communion idea, but it took forever to watch all ten cast members go through their born-again experiences.
Jacob Richards gives a wonderful performance of his music and the cast did their best. They are Liz Hoefner Adamis, Boni B. Alvarez, Fran de Leon, Ray Ford, Lorne Green, Carolina Montenegro, Turner Munch, Yanina Orellana, Scott Russell and V. Spencer.
Chaos reigned at the end as the audience is encouraged to join the cast of UNTITLED COMMUNION onstage for a “dance party” and food. A NOW Festival opening night bash? The people who joined in the fun appeared to be having a good time, which is great. I, however, gather up my memories of the first two works and headed home.
This program continues through July 29th and the NOW Festival runs for two more weekends, featuring a different program each week. For program information and tickets, click here.