“The Pronouns (Experiment #2)”
Filed Under: Media & Tech | Posted: 09/05/2012 at 9:52PM
Comments | Region: New York | United States
I saw "The Pronouns (Experiment #2)" by Clarinda Mac Low at Mount Tremper Arts on June 9. The show began outside the hall, with two children hopping on a trampoline, while a man shouted out instructions from The Pronouns: 40 Dances for the Dancers by Jackson Mac Low, the conceptual poet (1922-2004). Here are some of the phrases:
I do something consciously,
going about & coming across art.
After that I boil some delicate things
while doing something under the conditions of competition
& going under someone or something
& taking opinions,
& then, when making or giving something small, I monkey with something that’s not white.
Later I quietly chalk a strange tall bottle.
Following each instruction, the two kids would act it out. This performance lasted six minutes, after which we all went inside.
The feeling of the show was homemade, friendly. It was more like eating soup than "seeing avant-garde dance." The performers wore ordinary clothes, not leotards. One of the women had on an orange tank top, beneath which she wore a bra. You know how, when that happens, you see four straps? Those four straps became part of the performance. "The Pronouns" was closer to visual art than most dance is — and, in fact, ended with all the performers taping large brown paper to the wall and drawing freely with chalk.
Clarinda seemed like the leader of a gang more than a "choreographer." She performed very little, but usually stood in one corner — near where I sat — watching the others and smiling.
At one point, one of the players, James Hannaham, fell in love with a woman in the audience. He looked at her and said: "Oh, wow! You and I are so… We should just open a joint bank account right now!" The woman, who sat with her boyfriend, tried not to look flattered.
Later, James stripped to the waist, and drew on himself with beige and green pastels. He is African-American, and suddenly one noticed that his skin, which defines his identity for us, is merely a surface, like a blackboard.
One dancer lay motionless on the ground, and everyone else gathered around her pretending she was dead, or gravely injured, and worried about her. (The woman with the four straps, in fact!)
At one point, the performers ripped up pieces of paper, then distributed them to the audience — but not to everyone. After the show, a woman sitting near me handed me her scrap of paper: "Here, you should have this!" Then I saw it was part of a dollar bill: most of George’s face. These performers had been committing a federal crime (destroying currency)!
"The Pronouns (Experiment #2)" was influenced, I suspect, by Occupy Wall Street. Also, it was about Clarinda’s relationship with her father. In her biographical note she wrote: "Clarinda Mac Low has been performing since she was 4, when she made mud onstage for a piece by her father about the four elements."
After the show, Clarinda spoke to the audience: "We would love to hear anything you have to say, positive or negative." There was a pause, then a man in the back spoke out. "Your father would be very proud of you." We all laughed and applauded, and that was the end of our collective conversation. I wandered to the back wall, to see the drawings the troupe had made. They were colorful, twisting. As I suspected, the performers had "quietly chalked a strange tall bottle."
Today, finally reading the program, I learned that many of the performers were not dancers. James Hannaham, for example, writes for the Village Voice, and cofounded the Elevator Repair Service, the theater company which is recently famous for reading all of The Great Gatsby aloud.