Allie Hankins curates a night of provocative humor in double bill: Ghosts and Snake Talk.
Last Friday night at Performance Works Northwest, artists from Berlin, Ireland, and Oakland coalesced into a cohesive unit, despite having little to do with each other. Although their work was developed independently, it was as if specific guidelines were offered ahead of time to make a predominantly movement-based work that is text-driven, involves jungle animals, nudity, humor, and political discussion. Allie Hankins curated the evening, so I would credit her for the harmonious overlap there.
This opening half is a duet created and performed by Asaf Aharonson and Ruairi Donovan. The male duo blur themselves into the performance by apparently rehearsing something else in front of everyone. Naturally, we the audience stop our chit chat, gazing upon these two European visitors. They begin actually with floral arrangements on their face plus a handheld cassette player with lilting music. After working through it, they stop to say hello and start Ghosts.
Aharonson disappears to a back room. Donovan reads from correspondence with someone involved in a performance they’re working on. The question is whether or not a man can appear on stage with an erection. Aharonson reemerges nude, carrying lumber and erecting wood loosely on stage. He shucks back and forth until wooden beams delicately stand all over the stage. Sometimes they fall down, producing suspense and a startling clap.
The text goes on to explain a great deal about the Irish disdain for the mere mention of sodomy, let alone sex acts on stage, which are also queried in the discussion. After that very interesting legal briefing on Irish obscenity law and the constitution, Donovan gets up and interacts with Aharonson, who puts on his clothes.
They pop up a tent in the corner. Their movement suggests flirtation which evolves into outright chasing one another in between the erect wooden beams, as if frolicking in the forest. When a beam falls, they respond with a pretty hilarious bit of backing off toward the tent, holding a microphone, both repeating “whoa… whoa… whoa bear.” Inside the tent, a tussle ensues, they emerge with Donovan in a monkey suit, and the chase goes on.
It seems more and more to be about their relationship. Things get weird, like asking for the eldest audience member to join them. Aharonson — who was somehow naked again — carried the chosen 66-year old man around, and had a bit of a chat. More funny business carried on and revealed how the performance was about their relationship.
A dialogue takes place from prerecorded questions on handheld cassette recorders, so that the one who isn’t in the room is represented as the voice on tape, asking questions for the person in the room to answer.
Usually, I don’t recap whole performances like that. Maybe I don’t know what to say about it. But if I say more then I’ll give away too much. So after a brief intermission, three women from Oakland took over: Abby Crain, Maryanna Lachman, and Mara Poliak.
This one, by Abby Crain, Maryanna Lachman, and Mara Poliak, begins with the jolting, squirming, jittery aimless wandering of their bodies in space. It is a fluid, snake-like motion, creepy and graceful. The sound design by Samuel Hertz has a way of taking centerstage at the beginning, especially because their movement doesn’t change much, and his soundtrack builds on it. Unfortunately, there was an audio glitch and it sounded like the incessant crackling of a bad cable. I had sat next to the sound board. My instinct was to stop and figure it out with them, but I didn’t. The women continued performing: The show must go on.
Interestingly, when the sound cut out completely, my friend said, “I like it like this.” It was just the bare grunting of three women crawling across the stage diagonally, until the sound was resolved. After huddling in the corner briefly, they broke out into three positions, each with props. As the sound mixed back in, it was pretty transparent, blending nicely into the movement. In general, it was electronically generated mostly ambient stuff.
In the corner, a light shines down, and I recall a pedestal. In the opposite corner, a small blue inflatable sofa, and a houseplant. One of the members read from text while the other two acted out in their positions. Lachman reads the text. Its about snakes. There were some interesting facts, like how they can fast, how infrequently they attack, and I thought she said something about group sex — that sounds weird.
By this time, their denim shirts were flopping open to reveal bare breasts. Crain played this bit on the couch hilariously, posing like a porn model, butt crack exposed with denim shorts halfway down. They’re all wearing about the same outfit and rotate positions, so that each of them eventually do the same bit on that couch. The other two couldn’t make the visual butt joke like she did.
When they arrived out of that cycle there was singing, a kind of operatic belting and Stravinsky-like stabbing of notes. I heard the words, but they allude me now, as I feel like it could have been anything and the point would have gotten across — it could have been, “I! Would! Walk! Five! Hun-dred! Miles! Just! To! Be!” etc. I hope you get that Proclaimers reference. But seriously, it came as an urgent expression of the sexual-gender themes throughout the whole.
I was left with this certain impression about west coast experimental performance that has pretty well solidified after years of exposure: weird, somewhat antagonistic, involves nudity, and is technically resourceful. Its a certain west coast attitude that trends across art forms, all the way from Los Angeles to Portland. I’m not criticizing that, in fact, I think it will go down in history as a movement (of movement).
Paired with the guys from Berlin, the whole night ran this satirical thread with jungle animals, dark and sexual humor dealing with contemporary social topics.
Ghosts was previously commissioned for the Cork Midsummer Festival. Snake Talk was a preview performance that will debut in full at CounterPulse in San Francisco, this April 1st.