Performing Arts: Dance
May 26, 2017
When does provocation become critique? Vanessa Anspaugh’s The End of Men, Again is supposed to be an “exploration, a critique, a celebration, and… an exorcism of… a myriad of masculine archetypes” – all in under 75 minutes, and all with a strangely narrow conception of masculinity. Moving from an embryonic, infantilized state to a testosterone-fueled psychosis, the men in this “cis-male” cast are decidedly not your average guys. And although it’s possible to extrapolate critique from what comes across at times as cartoonish parody or worse, it might be hard to take it seriously.

The most interesting image of the evening was the first thing we saw: the choreographer herself, sitting on a bench, roped off in small a boxing ring, hooked up to a double breast pump machine. She sits there motionless, on the altar of St. Mark’s church, looking like a futuristic version of Charity, that lactating muse. For anyone who has experienced pumping breast milk in dirty, ill-equipped makeshift spaces, hiding from American squeamishness about breastfeeding in general and in public especially, seeing that out in the open and on a pedestal was edgy, if not demystifying.

Anspaugh’s exploration of power dynamics started out pretty basic: she unhooked herself from the pump, stepped down and uncovered six partially naked men lying about the floor. As they moved into different positions in slow motion, she commanded them to lower their heads down a few times, and then exited, never to be seen again.

The performers ritualistically helped each other finish dressing, gathering into a small clump, tapping their heels and bare feet, quietly, slowly, building with a gradual crescendo into a deafening herd that eventually exploded. Unleashing a wild energy interrupted by spoken word mostly about the biographical and mundane, in one sequence, two men walked towards each other taking turns stating “what they wanted,” while another told us of what happened to him during his IB high school experience – all with a studied casualness that actually made the confessions less compelling. Later they faced each other in a communal circle, whispering, humming, then screaming, and running around wildly again, enacting sexually charged, occasionally abusive interactions. Whoever was being the most virulent or bizarre got our attention, by slapping each other’s faces, sticking hands in each other’s mouths, climbing on each other, robe-snapping on the floor… very gay Animal House-like antics, but with none of the humor.

In another attempt at reversal of “power dynamics,” a dancer pointed out the New York Times dance critic sitting in the audience, imitating his crossed-legged posture and snickering, “I’m curious what he is going to write about this.” When he didn’t get a laugh, it turned into an even more awkward moment that made the performer seem superficial and insecure. Aimless and constantly changing kooky couplings culminated in one final gross (and gratuitous) transaction: one of the performers retrieved the bottle of Anspaugh’s freshly expressed breast milk, drank it, then spit it into the mouth of the next guy, and yes, they each passed it on that way, white liquid streaming from one mouth to the other, until the last one spit it onto the floor in a puddle. And that perfect baby food was not the only thing wasted.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Nicole Duffy Robertson

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