Nov 29, 2006

"Talk among yourselves" [LINK]

Fresh after reviewing the last one, Village Voice dance critic Deborah Jowitt details another highly thematic and category-bending performance, titled "Witness Relocation's Dancing vs. the Rat Experiment," which she somewhat impatiently refuses to evaluate on its choreographic merits:

[Artistic director Dan] Safer's subject is a big dire one: the effect of overpopulation on human behavior. He tackles this Malthusian quandary by the extended metaphor of confinement and crowding among lab rats (we learns about the rats' problems through voice-overs by Richard Armstrong and occasional speeches by the onstage performers). "The show might be about the end of the world," announces Safer....

The "experiment" progresses via encounters in a ballroom, a prizefight ring, a soap opera, and on a game show. Winners and losers are announced; so is the real passing time.... [T]he recorded soundtrack starts emitting thunderous rhythms, and the performers, numbers on their backs, are ordered into paired rock scissors-paper contests. A bucket descends from overhead so they can scrub their faces....

People's behavior becomes increasingly odd. I think I noted Abby Browde (clad in a puffy blue sort-of tutu) licking the floor. Randy Thompson is seized by a fit of leaping. Sean Donovan whispers conspiratorially to the audience and then goes nuts. Safer and Heather Christian embrace and dance, but when the music ends, they're kissing frantically with one or the other's hands placed between their mouths ("Lighten up there!" calls Stinger from the back of the space).

Amid the music, shifting lights, spoken information about stressed-out rats, printed signs, and physical exertion, the theater becomes an increasingly littered and disrupted recreation room. Perhaps these people have been dumped here so that behavioral scientists (us?) can examine them through one-way glass. Hostilities build. Emmitt George almost strangles Safer, scrubs the floor with him, and drags him crying away. The "soap opera" details through narration and action how a man leaves his wife for another man. In other words, the mating habits of rats are thrown off course through a deteriorating environment. Mothers kill their young (Stinger picks up a baseball bat and brains the invisible wailing baby she's been rocking).

Then, in one of the show's many abrupt changes, the cast cleans up the mess, and we're advised, "Talk among yourselves."

I understand that to evaluate the content of artistic works strictly in logical terms is to miss the point. Still, I do believe we just witnessed the suggestion that overpopulation may cause homosexuality.

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