Monday, August 22, 2016

Review - Boiling Point - A Different Sort of Ladies’ Night - 4 stars

It occurs to me thinking back over the five acts that make up Fire Drill’s latest curatorial effort Boiling Point bringing together local and visiting multidisciplinary performing artists, “This is probably the kind of thing people who have never been to the Minnesota Fringe Festival think the Fringe is.”  All five performers - Jill Flanagan (from Chicago), Pedro Pablo Lander (Minneapolis), HIJACK (Minneapolis), Lazer Vortex (Minneapolis), and Lorene Bouboushian (New York City) are all fairly “out there” either in terms of what they’re presenting to the audience, or how they’re presenting it.  Unlike previous Fire Drill hosting events, Boiling Point is lighter on the spoken word and dance side of things and more on the performance art end of the spectrum (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

Another thing that occurred to me is that, as a gay man, I’m probably encountering the bodies in most of these pieces in a different way than, say, any woman or a straight man might.  For want of a more delicate way of phrasing it, I don’t tend to see a lot of breasts or vaginas up close and personal as I move through my life.  Three of the acts in Boiling Point certainly fixed that.  Whereas other audience members probably approach the flesh on display with either an air of familiarity or even titillation, I found myself being reminded, “Oh, right, that’s what one of those looks like.”

Revisiting the press release after experiencing the art can be very illuminating.  Our opener Jill Flanagan is couched in these phrases:

Isn’t it just like a woman to be mischievous, impetuous, and impulsive, to want the freedom to do what she likes?  Chicago-based performance and noise artist Jill Flanagan (Forced Into Femininity) thinks so, and she’ll spread her twisted hysterical ideology with a little soft shoe routine and some jazz standards.

Noise artist, that’s a very useful label.  In the moment, I kept thinking, “Why is that death metal/industrial noise so loud?”  It was so consistently loud - and constantly present - that it had to be a choice.  It also drove a couple of children with sensitive ears outside until the cacophony let up and Jill was done.  Jill was also very transgressive in her use of space and the audience - quite literally climbing over the top of people and pushing her way through the assembled crowd.  The decibel level was so high that, even bellowing at the top of her lungs into a microphone, a lot of the time you couldn’t make out what she was singing or why (and again, this felt deliberate). 

Identifying herself as a trans woman in the piece, Jill had drawn in some cleavage for herself, but made it clear early on that the drawn-in cleavage was redundant.  She whipped out a breast and let it flap around as she sashayed and ran about the space.  All this may sound like a sort of assault on the audience, but that wasn’t Jill’s game.  Jill regularly made it clear that she appreciated the audience being present (and needed them present) in order to tell a part of her story.  While unapologetic and by no means shy, Jill’s strategy was nonetheless to draw in rather than repel her spectators.

Local performer Pedro Pablo Lander gets this set up:

Choreographer and performer Pedro Pablo Lander, who comes to the Twin Cities by way of Caracas, Venezuela and Winona, Minnesota, will share a new work with a soundscore by Joyce Liza Rada Lindsay. Lander will mine “the history within this body, the violent, misogynist, toxic masculinity...the femme, the masc, both, neither, all, the queer, the fantasy, she, he, me.”

The way this concept was manifested was with Lander in a dress, long hair flowing, at the top of the piece.  An older woman behind him soon asserted herself as a disapproving mother figure.  No sooner had Lander accented his face with makeup and styled his hair than the mother figure stepped in to correct him.  Their dance was a fight for dominance, which the mother figure ultimately won.  Soon the hair was restored to something less feminine in style, Lander’s head dunked in a bucket of water and the makeup roughly smeared off his face.  After redressing Lander in men’s clothes, she stepped aside as if her work was done.  Lander had the last word, however, using neckties for a purpose she didn’t suspect.

Local dance duo HIJACK are described as follows:

Minneapolis-based HIJACK, the collaboration of Kristin Van Loon and Arwen Wilder, will present a new dance: Yet another Aftermath. Of escalators of disco lights of uncles of labia of dignity.

Van Loon and Wilder’s piece was easily the one that was the most purely movement-based of the presentations - dance for dance’s sake, if you will.  Unlike a number of the free-wheeling offerings, HIJACK’s moves were all tightly controlled and focused.  There was no feeling of improv.  And like a performer whispering, their highly detailed work made me lean in more to catch the nuances and differences in movement as the piece progressed.  Couldn’t tell you how the escalators factor in, but the disco lights were charming, and as in all instances of female empowerment that night, the labia, though not on public display here, could be nothing but dignified. 

Another Minneapolis-based performance artist, Lazer Vortex, had this write-up:

Minneapolis-based performer, video maker, nightlife wizard, and dancer Lazer Vortex, who makes work that is both campy and reverent, will share a new piece that asks: What does healing look like in an endlessly oppressive world? How do we embody utopias? In this work, psychic warfare requires a very sharp psychic sword.

You know you’re in for it when during preset the artist asks, quite innocently, “Uh, where’s the ax?”  The ax was found and placed among the Lazer Vortex’s other props.  Lazer Vortex’s initial costume was just a lot of strategically placed criss-crossing electrical tape - purple, if my eyes weren’t deceiving me.  With Euro-pop blasting in the background, Laser Vortex (is Lazer her first name in this context? should I call them Mx. Vortex?)… Anyway, Lazer Vortex removed most of the tape and gradually moved on to a different outfit.  This was a fitted clear plastic shroud of sorts, also held together with electrical tape (the kind of piping you’d consider frosting on their gingerbread person silhouette).

Lazer Vortex’s co-star in the piece was a sort of baby walker contraption, though not so much a contraption a baby could walk in as just kind of rock and wobble back and forth in.  A way to keep your baby in place and upright, with no danger of them wandering away from you.  Well, an adult has other uses for such a device.  And when they tire of it, they can always just make short work of the plastic thing with their ax.  Lazer Vortex spent the time being 1 part seductive to 9 parts ridiculous, mocking the notion that their nudity was at all titillating.  If you were going to ogle them, they were going to mock the idea of being ogled in this situation, making the whole thing more playful and silly.

To close things up for the night, we got the work of our other visitor:

New York City-based performance artist Lorene Bouboushian is interested in vulnerability, shame, and the heroic in despair. At Fresh Oysters, she will perform “--extent of Explosive lament on sale--”, a solo on boiling points, class, boundaries of the body, discomfort, and then again why are we here?

Like Jill at the top of the evening, there were no boundaries with Lorene.  She was everywhere.  No corner of the space or the audience was left unexplored.  Rather than a lot of musical accompaniment, Lorene opted for projections on the wall with which she could interact.  She also provided running commentary on her own dance moves, her exploration of the space, the crowd, and herself.  Most of it was geared to be amusing and self-deprecating, a lot of it (funny or not) was contemplative, a little of it was sad or pleading.  After changing into a much more revealing outfit, she decided it was time to crowd surf.  The crowd stood to oblige, she got up in the air, and was passed around for awhile, discussing her place in society and in art.  It’s instructive when a person is in danger of falling how quickly everyone gets over the reluctance to touch or get close to others.  Lorene returned to earth for some final meditations, and then was done.

I feel a little weird labeling Boiling Point for convenience as “ladies night” because none of the artists had much time or patience for standard notions of femininity.  They were just there to be artists and present work, and if anything, the expectations of the label woman, rather than simply human, just got in their way - and they were more than happy to push right past it and make you look at them differently.  (Note: I was informed after initially posting this review that it would be incorrect to reer to Lazer Vortex as a woman.  It's not a label they use - so I've switched out the "she" pronouns for "they" in their section above.)

If there were specific, explicit messages intended by each segment of the evening, I’m not sure how effectively those were transmitted to the audience.  The feeling of each sequence, however, was unique and unusual, and maybe being pushed as an audience through that sort of artist’s lens is enough for a piece that only lasts around 15 minutes.  This was a more challenging assortment of performers than Fire Drill has hosted before, but still very worthwhile.  Keep your eye out for the next one of these.  They’re always bound to gift you with something you either don’t see all that often, or have never seen before.

4 stars - Highly Recommended

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