My calendar reminder read, “Wear Clean Socks.”
I don’t remember typing those words, though I do remember agreeing to attend at the same time an immersive dance performance at Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art, “Thank You for Coming: Attendance.” Assuming these events must be one in the same, I went ahead and made sure my feet were shod with store-new crimson stockings, just in case.
“Thank You for Coming” is a series of new works by the choreographer Faye Driscoll, heralded by the New York Times as a “startlingly original talent,” which explores the question: “How do we perceive ourselves as participants in the co-creation of our reality?”
Performance notes read:
“Performed in the round, Attendance [the first in the Driscoll’s three part series] opens with a tangle of five dancers communally bound by their reliance on one another. [. . .] Taking place on stage with a limited-capacity audience, the work also invites viewers into the “weird” and wonderful universe of this “postmillenium, postmodern wild woman” (critic Deborah Jowitt), as they become participants by wearing or holding the offbeat objects that also serve as the dancers’ props. Throughout the performance, the joyful intimacy mounting on stage envelops the audience as well, creating a beautiful shared identity.”
Interesting. . .
Indeed, upon entering the theatre we’re asked to prepare ourselves for a new kind of experience.
“Please remove your shoes and jackets before going on stage and sit as close to the platform as you can.”
Thus liberated of our constraining affectations of humanity (or cunningly stripped of our protective armor?) 120 of us sit on the stage, some on risers, some on the floor, circling a bare raised platform, the unused seats of the audience before or behind us, and wait, school assembly style, wondering who and what and how and why and when. . .
The performers, recognizable not so much by their bare feet or comfortable street wear but their fluid movement and toned muscles, circle and observe. I suspect they go unnoticed by most, until they file into a row of empty seats in the darkened audience space and sing to us about the fire exits.
Attention then moves to that central platform, where the performers construct with their bodies complex, grotesque, beautiful, unexpected, interconnected forms. Twisting and straining from one structure to the next, feet serve as platforms and handholds and crowns; mouths are by turns sensual and violent.
My seatmate says it reminds her of the immigration crisis raging across Europe: connections formed, strained, broken, and reformed with force, regret, fear and ecstasy.
And just like the arbitrary national borders of Europe, the arbitrary borders of the performance space are no match for the writhing life within. Eventually the performers, connected in a human rope hand to foot, roll off that dedicated performance space and literally into our laps. Even my new clean red socks become part of that living form, as a performer reaches to grab my foot, pulling me in with his outward looking motion.
And while I and others are pulled in, and the boundaries of us and them and this and that are being transgressed, the now unnecessary platform as performance space is disassembled from underneath, revealing benches, on which various portions of the audience are encouraged to rearrange themselves, jockeying for position, heightened only by the distribution of props (plastic flowers, golden shower caps, black lace). By the time I’m contemplating what heroic act the mysterious, no doubt phallic?, wooden mace I’ve been handed will indict me to, I realize the performers have changed clothes before our eyes are now gasping for breath. Dying little deaths their once insatiable virility never suggested possible.
But then there’s more.
The strains of a guitar resurrect a new act. The “stroboscopic” stepping of the dancers suggest a club? They greet each other with joy, intrigue, disgust and fear. And what are the words the guitarist/sound technician is singing? Adam, Puna, Heather, Jon a tha aa n. Chris. Chris. Chris. Our names! One hundred and twenty of them forming the lyrics of the song, animating and enlivening not just the performative action at the center, but our own reaction to its substance as we are it.
Then a new act making use of those pre-distributed props. There’s chaos and confusion. Rushing and grabbing. Are those veils and formal formations of humanity representations of ritual? “I need the flute” a performer asks my section of the audience. A few beats until I realize she’s asking for my mis-identified wooden phallus. Whew! It’s only a flute.
Ropes are threaded from this side to that, separating the golden shower caps from the plastic flowers. Dividing space, creating boundaries and structure where once there was only freedom and connection.
Then darkness as action moves to the ground and the performers act individually from the margins of the space, straining towards the middle their clothing falling way, their stockings stretched from here to over her head.
A nucleus forms. There’s a lightening of a kind. That intersections of ropes once used to divide begin to rise from the floor, creating a canopy under which the dancers begin circling in a simplified contra style. In and out and round about, with each opening of the circle an unarticulated invitation to join, until, of course, a hand is extended in an explicit invitation, and members of the audience join one by one and then more and more, until, is it true?, the performers have removed themselves completely, standing to the side, as those who started the night thinking themselves members of the audience inhabit and perform the central creative act.
I think I’m going to start wearing clean red socks everyday.
Thank You for Coming: Attendance