Widening the I

commentary on dance and other events that catch my fancy. mostly dance though.

American Realness: a g-chat in response to “Brave New Girl”

with 3 comments

Andy Holtin and I talked about Neal Medlyn’s performance piece “Brave New Girl” quite a bit in face-to-face life, but we grabbed an hour to talk about the work online. I was interested in capturing some of the spontaneity that comes when two people who know each other are discussing something they’ve seen together. “Brave New Girl” was created by Neal Medlyn, with performances and choreography by Medlyn, Farris Craddock, and Carmine Covelli, music by Medlyn, and lighting design by Madeline Best. The performance was a snow-covered musical exploration of the inner lives of Hannah Montana.

photo by Andrea Mohin for the New York Times

2:46 PM Andy: i’m here
me: hello
ready for some kunst-talk?
2:47 PM Andy: indeed
me: so, welcome to Widening the I
we both attended the performance of Neal Medlyn’s “Brave New Girl”
2:48 PM on friday, January 7, 2011
and it’s been a week and it seems like it’s still kind of sloshing around for both of us
2:49 PM Andy: yeah i find i have the whole show stuck in my head the same way the songs, Hannah/Miley covers, seem to do
2:50 PM me: why do you think that is?
but yeah, for me too, even in a weekend really packed with performances and art, that one is standing out
2:53 PM you writing a novel over there?
2:54 PM Andy: well to begin with, it was for me (and i suspect for much of the audience) quite a fundamental education about who/what Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus is. This isn’t something i can claim to have clearly understood before seeing this piece. I mean, i was generally aware of some grotesque character out there associated with those names, but i just filed it in with the broad pool of things i don’t pay attention to, don’t know the details of, and yet feel fairly sure are bad for everyone.
2:56 PM me: right; that’s something really interesting to me. it seems like the piece is intended for consumption by an audience that doesn’t overlap with the mainstream. and yet it doesn’t just take hits at this cultural target that seems really huge and easy.
2:57 PM Andy: stop typing!
me: i mean, i actually felt real empathy for miley cyrus by the end.
which i hadn’t expected
ok, ok, sorry!
3:02 PM Andy: there is a question in there though, of who the mainstream is, who actually knows the characters, real and scripted, in this little story. i doubt that a real majority of american-culture consumers are really paying attention to hannah montana’s ins and out, but the producers/marketing end certainly can make sure we all know it exists, and somehow that mild ubiquity is connected to the this state of being barely aware that she/it/they are a cultural object. I think this it what made it such a surprise to see hannah/miley’s lives portrayed the way neal did.
3:04 PM me: i can see that, that there’s a broad swath of us that are vaguely aware of these characters
3:05 PM i was talking to our friend r. yesterday who had also seen the performance and she thought the strongest part of the show was the introduction, which i also loved
3:06 PM mostly because i feel like i must have played axis and allies with farris craddock from 1993-1997
3:07 PM i thought he did such a convincing job of not appearing to be acting
3:08 PM Andy: yeah it was great, though i thought it might have relied a bit much on heavy-handed “remember this bit for later in the show” foreshadowing, and a little over-earnestness
me: i am a sucker for the earnest
3:11 PM i think i’m not patient enough for this kind of response….
3:12 PM Andy: for me the strongest possible parts of the show were neal’s bewigged song performances. THAT was earnest. besides filling in for me which blurred and artless pop songs i’m hearing belong to hannah/miley (H&M?), they presented clearly the tone, the lyrics, the invisible hand of the ghost writer we know is churning them out and attempting to write them in the “voice” that the entertainment narrative needs her to have
ok let me keep going…
3:13 PM me: ha! ok
3:14 PM but i may start my own side-track…
Andy: no!
me: and now we have the image of neal any time we hear those songs
which is really satisfying for me
3:15 PM it’s like a protest that just keeps rippling out
3:17 PM it’s like the most effective form of pop culture protest i can think of, transforming the banal pop flotsam we’re all drifting in
3:20 PM Andy: so, we’re getting these exposures of the management and scripting of her hannah character’s life, her new public miley character’s life, and her “real” life (represented by her “5am me time” moments). The amazing moment for me, though, was when neal, in one of those 5am scenes, lurks into the middle of the audience and starts in on a soliloquy that begins as a rumination on H&M’s complicated arc, but somehow slips into a story of a self and troubles and lost jobs and crappy shared apartments that might be neal’s own story, or mine, or someone else who isn’t miley cyrus. This was the onliest realest dialog in the piece, and Neal puppeteered it out of her mouth the same as her pop song writers.
3:23 PM me: right… and who knows where it really came from. it makes me question the idea of believability and what relevance that has anymore
Andy: genau
me: it might be completely out the window. because all of that script seemed ‘believable’ at some level
3:25 PM but i wanted to go back to that idea of not just taking pot-shots
3:26 PM Andy: right
me: and i could be wrong about this, but we talked earlier about the use of that nina simone song (desperate ones)
and how it didn’t seem like they were setting up an easy equation of authenticity (nina simone) vs. artificiality (miley cyrus)
3:28 PM it was a bit hard to hear the nina simone song, but it seemed like there were some common elements of desperation, and longing, and loneliness
or did you think there was some simplistic opposition going on?
3:31 PM Andy: honestly i could hardly hear it at all, and i didn’t know the original well enough to rely on my own information. for me, it connects too strongly to the beginning, to the greek-chorus bit of farris’s introduction, and felt like an attempt to wrap up too cleanly. But, you know me, the stranger and less resolved the better IMHO.
3:32 PM me: hence your favorite part being neal’s soliloquy from the audience…
Andy: right
3:34 PM me: (as a sidenote, how do neal and dwayne ray not know each other? was palestine, texas just cranking out the really skinny musical smarties so fast in the 70s that they couldn’t even keep track of them all?)
3:39 PM Andy: for me, the best elements had to do with combining the reality of what she/they are singing/saying, who they’re speaking to, how we encounter and process it, what it must be like to move in and out of those roles, and how much we, outside of it, know or care. This was most perfectly and poignantly seen in the prolonged mutation of the “Party in the USA” performance, in which the song faded in all its parts but the iconic keyboard riff while the three performers continued locked into a dance moved tied to the riff. As the sound became further and further detached from the song it came from, the “choreography” looked more are more distorted, involuntary, and uncomfortable, just like everything else about H&M’s life presented.
3:42 PM me: i think that’s a good way to put it and a good place to wrap up for now
any closing thoughts that will burn you up if they go unsaid?
3:43 PM Andy: no, i think that taps me out 🙂
3:45 PM me: all right, thanks for coming along
you are invited back anytime
3:46 PM Andy: certainly! really enjoyed it

Written by wideningthei

January 17, 2011 at 5:55 pm

3 Responses

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  1. Hey, Ellen and Andy. Thanks for some interesting thoughts about this piece.
    Something I was wondering about that you didn’t mention: “love.” They present all of these things about the Hannah/Miley characters, and sure, they’re making fun, but I had a sense that Neal Medlyn has a huge love for that kind of young pop music’s place in our society by presenting it as a sort of energetic upper throughout the work.
    That’s it. Just a thought.

    Kelly Bond

    January 19, 2011 at 9:43 am

  2. I feel like this piece also has an underlying theme of hidden male friendship moments/love.


    January 23, 2011 at 10:37 pm

  3. Fascinating discussion. I wish I could have seen the show!


    January 28, 2011 at 1:15 pm

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