Candice Thompson and Sara Sessions chatted about Faye Driscoll’s Thank You For Coming: Attendance over a glass of wine after last Tuesday’s performance at Danspace.
CT: What did you think about the a cappella singing of announcements–such as what to do in the event of a fire–that didn’t just precede the show but seemed to open the show?
SS: I really liked the singing intro. It established a tone of playfulness for the evening. By giving quotidien theater “business” to the performers it gave them some authority over the evening, which became important later when they began literally manipulating the audience. Using the balcony for this delivery also addressed what could be a daunting part of the theater while pointedly introducing the use of vocal work in the work.
CT: True, it set the playful yet ultimately harmonious tone of what was to come. Thinking back on experience of the 65 minute show that we saw—I mean participated in—I keep thinking that Driscoll’s company completed an exaggerated, physicalized game of cat’s cradle. The physical connectivity of the dancers and the weaving in of the audience, who literally did end up holding taut a web of strings, was inventive and delightfully absurd.
SS: Yes, I found myself engaged by the fact that Driscoll produced a role reversal: the dancers were watching us and we were performing for the dancers.
CT: That’s an interesting take–I wonder if audience members, not of a performance background like me and you, felt that they were performing or if all that looking was just uncomfortable. On my end, I was definitely aware of what my face was doing since the performers did seem to genuinely be watching the audience. And in a strange turn, I spent much of the time looking at a performer who seemed so familiar and turned out to be my freshman year college roommate Alicia Ohs!
SS: What a small world. The connected limbs of the performers and the gaze shared between the performers and audience was a fascinating way to physicalize the interdependence we have as human beings with one another.
CT: I had already seen a version of the first section performed by on its own at AUNTS last year. So while the humor, endurance, and brutality of five people staying literally connected by hand or foot through so many position changes was not a surprise, I was not at all bored or thinking I know what happens next. It reminded me of a beautiful Balanchine intertwining arm sequence—like Serenade or the Apollo muses—on crack and brought to a climax and then to the end of its own high.
SS: The level of skill was remarkable among the performers Giulia Carotenuto, Sean Donovan, Alicia Ohs, Brandon Washington, and Nikki Zialcita. No fouettes here. The technical feat was managing the elements of instablility that kept popping up – someone standing one-legged on demi point, another starting an earthquake-like tremour – and allowing the power game to cantilever off the platform…all while blithely looking away from each other.
CT: It is worth noting the volition of the performer, since the work was created by Driscoll in collaboration with the company. They rolled off their own platform stage and forced the audience members seated on the floor to move back, hand them pre-set water bottles, and dress them in costumes for the next section. Meanwhile the planks of the stage were deconstructed by Driscoll herself, who emerged from underneath it in the role of director and stage hand, getting the audience to move out of her way as she set the pieces up as benches and reoriented the audience. What did you think of Dricsoll’s presence?
SS: Driscoll proposed a great problem for herself as a choregrapher and then allowed the audience to participate with her literally getting down to nuts and bolts of the process. I like that she solved the problem of scene change in a way that again made “theater business” fun and engaging for the audience. She highlighted rather than trying to mask the stage craft. It got the audience invested in the work.
CT: But the audience participation was only beginning. In the next section, the company began dancing, a little further apart but not much, to a call and response style song. The singer called out the names of the audience members, in sequences of three names at a time, and then the performers fixated on the last name in the sequence and repeated it enthusiastically or angrily, depending on the emotions of the movement they were currently involved in. I couldn’t help but have a tiny little thrill when I heard my name. What did you think of this section—the clipped, stop motion movements of the dancers as they recreated what seems like scenes from a party or social gathering and their exaggerated, emotive faces?
SS: Brilliant. As someone who loves all the arts, I find it refreshing to see dancers who also act. The face and voice are as much a part of the human body as our feet and arms, yet very few dancers take on using all of their being in the service of telling a story. It thrills me to see excellent movers also act. The whole section was like watching a sequence under strobe light, minus the migraine. I was amazed that they sustained it for so long, rotating and replaying the same sequence as they migrated around the four sides of the audience.
CT: That is a perfect description–Driscoll created her own strobe effect while allowing lighting designer, Amanda K. Ringger to focus on creating a nuanced mood with her design.
SS: After the intimacy of the square with its intense focus on the dancers and them on us, it was a relief to realize that we had been given props to play with for a little escapism. The next section reminded me of the movie Airplane and the game, “Captain, what do you make of this map?” The props were specific – a feather duster, a grass skirt, gold-colored mylar showcaps – but the dancers repurposed them to a variety of uses in a series of skit vignettes and again used audience participation to fill in the scene as the cheering crowd or band of angry protestors. Suddenly we were manipulated into participating before we even knew what role we were playing. Of course, by the end, Driscoll had once again shifted the set up of the stage and gotten rid of the bleachers while were were distracted.
CT: There was definitely a lot of movement required from the audience–you really had to be game to enjoy this show. What I found myself appreciating the most though was how Driscoll explored so many facets of her concept of “group action and transformation.” The audience was engaged on several sense levels—sight, sound, touch. As the final section ramped up, bodies slithered across the space in giant tubes of lycra, others wormed their way across the large expanse of Danspace in pants that had legs so long they were pulled off. The ends of these fabric strands were given to the now standing audience, pushed way back and onto our feet during the previous section, members to hold and formed the diagonal threads of a large web. Once woven, the web was flown up to create a sort of maypole that the dancers and invited audience circled in a sort of ritual closing down of the dance.
Did this wind up to wind down ending satisfy you?
SS: At the time I found it anti-climactic, and I guess I still do. I was hoping for something a little smarter after all the manipulation. I didn’t want to be given the choice to join a maypole. I wanted to find myself in the maypole, connected and dependent. I guess I wanted the experience of being shown how to lose my self-determination as part of the function of human society.
CT: Agreed. As much as she pushed, the ended was a little deflated. According to the press release, this dance was the premiere in “a series of works, to be created over the next several years.” I can say without a doubt that I am curious to know where this is going to ultimately go, since Driscoll seems to want to follow her concept to its most extreme place. What about you?
SS: I will definitely go out of my way to follow her work.