Widening the I

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

Posts Tagged ‘Madeline Best

American Realness: an epistolary response to “PURO DESEO”

leave a comment »

Dear fellow audience members of luciana achugar’s performance of PURO DESEO on Sunday, January 10, 2011,

An exorcism, that’s what we’ve been through together. Did you too have to peel yourself from your seat at the end of the show, put on your scarf in a daze, and attempt to go on with your evening as planned? Or did you wander about the city, processing the strange vision you had just witnessed? Or go home and curl up in a corner with a blanket and some hot tea, putting on some poppy music to dispel the chilling images? Or did you grab the closest human you could find and celebrate what incredible creatures we are, capable of making art like this? It felt as if achugar had located the murkiest, most hidden repositories of fears in the body, put in a direct line, and piped them out onto the stage.

I’m not sure how they managed to get it so pitch-black in the theater, because it seemed darker than just having all of the lights off and blocking out outside light. Imagine the darkest space you’ve ever been in and you’re approximating the sensation. Into this darkness came achugar’s sonorous intonation of a Spanish language chant for children, designed for healing when they’ve been hurt. (Sana sana, colita de rana. Si no sanas hoy, sanarás mañana.) The rhyme is said to have special healing powers, and it did in achugar’s tending. I turned my eyes away from the red exit sign, the only light source in the theater, and enjoyed the inkiness all around, with achugar’s piercing voice from the back of the room. And then the thudding footfalls started from the back as well and I felt a large presence stomp by me, achugar’s collaborator Michael Mahalchick.

The costumes and the sounds and movement were so evocative that somehow I turned the back of the stage, a partially brick wall, into an elaborate set with a house façade and an old door. I only realized halfway through the piece that what I had thought was a house was just the back of the stage. That’s some truly effective atmospheric creation when you don’t even have to build a set because you have the audience imagine one for you. Did you fall for this as well or are your eyes smarter or your imagination less susceptible?

And then I could have watched achugar shuffle along a diagonal line for the next 20 years or so. She indulged me for a good long while, the repetition comfortably numbing, but it could have gone on even longer. The pace picked up and achugar started shedding pieces of her vaguely Victorian and completely fantastic black frock (designed by Walter Dundervill) a bit at a time. Towards the end when they were doing that section with the arms that was like part signaling ships, part ritual, part drill team, I thought one of us was going to explode.

I hope I didn’t distract you with my own movement, as I found myself unable to keep from putting my hand to my forehead in sheer disbelief at the stunning use of light, repeatedly. Is there someone on the MacArthur selection committee reading this? Because lighting designer Madeline Best should be given a genius award right this second. The sudden pools of light appearing like islands. The murky light of the back of the stage that the eyes were forced to make sense of. The simplicity and restraint.

Anyway. I’m glad you were there. I’m glad I was there. Maybe we were all healed in some small, monumentally unmeasurable way.

Con cariño,
ellen

Advertisements

Written by wideningthei

January 14, 2011 at 8:46 pm