October 15, 2016
Doors open an hour early for Jennifer Monson/iLAND’s in tow at Danspace
Project. Not your usual preshow, the performers scatter about the sanctuary in
disparate investigations. Bodies, covered in fur, give restorative bodywork while
others partner clunky shapes and dangle things from the balcony above a woman in
a lab coat running between two harps. There is no main focal point; moments ebb
and flow on their own. One emergence is Monson herself, who explains exactly what
we are observing. To see such lucidity before such abstraction is an exercise in
After these “pre-attacks,” the piece proper is largely the same, albeit more
spatially refined. At certain points, everyone works with the same objects in a glacial
parade from St. Marks’ vestibule to wherever they wish to spread. Carol Mullins’
lighting segments continuous action into digestible chunks. It divides the space for a
solo by Monson, dark save a stripe encircling the horizon, catching her tossing head
in snapshots of abandon.
Monson explains early on that the piece is an experiment in performance and
meaning. “Disciplines” of movement, singing, drawing/writing, touching, and
speaking occupy performers who, each night, have a different focus, the one in
question being “material.” What quickly becomes apparent is how these disciplines
are not islands.
Objects amplify singing; voices and movement are drawing utensils.
Objects speak, animated through movement, and bodies become canvases. The tasks
seem intentionally set up to collapse in harmony only noticeable through their
One might imagine watching this to be intensely alienating, but as some lucky
spectators were lectured, Monson views performance as an exercise in seeing for
the outsider. Audience engagement is actually the only thing to justify such a piece’s
existence. The doer only discovers action; the viewer processes.
An audience’s presence additionally questions of the role of training in an
environment where we pay to see people venture beyond their own skill-set. It
simultaneously seems inconsistent, as harpist Zeena Parkins is the only performer
who touches the instrument on which she so happens to be a virtuoso. Considering
she also dances, the balance of exploration seems unequal; however, without people
and their specific skills, the performative experiment, already so multifaceted,
would implode in generalities. Objects and actions are purely an extension of the
people involved. What matters is the willingness to dismantle conventional ideas of
how to use their expertise.
Many have used chance operations to achieve a concrete product. Here we
have a concrete operation that generates a completely aleatoric result. Monson,
however, allows her science to still be art. The senses of being “in character” and
“work mode” are synonymous. Movement invention being a fallacy, discoveries
beget a kind of repertory. The scientific acceptance of failure is a poetic expression
of letting go. Cataclysms of silliness permeate the diligence. Satisfaction with one’s
investigation is a visceral emotion. When we learn that this performance is the final
chance for everyone to cram in final exploratory desires, we develop a sympathetic,
if preemptive, missing of the act of doing in a piece that is only process.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Jonathan Matthews