The situation was this: at one end of a room with all white walls, a performer writhed about on the floor.
That sounds snarkier than I mean it to. I sat on the floor in a corner of the room opposite for, I'm guessing, over half an hour, watching this choreography (for it was choreographed---there was a definite sequence that repeated), noticing a number of things.
There was no soundtrack and the performer made no noise. The floors of the Menil are black-stained wood, which make for a nice surface for this sort of thing. The performer (in this case Shanon Adams, a local dancer) sits up on her knees, but never rises to her feet. There are moments when the performer puts her feet on the white walls---she's wearing black sneakers---and the marks of other performers are on the wall where their feet moved, too.
Writhing is the best verb I can think of to describe the motion, but it is a writing neither in agony nor in pleasure, near as I could tell. Simply contracting and stretching. Rolling up and pouring down. None of the movements, to my eyes, conveyed any specific meaning, except one moment when she holds both hands up to her face, shadowing her eyes, almost as if using binoculars to look at the viewers. This was the only acknowledgement (if that's what it was) of being watched.
The performer wore nothing particularly flashy or unusual. A light green, sleeveless pullover with a sort of ruffled skirt-like hem over a black leotard. Her arms are bare. The most unusual thing was mismatched ankle socks, one white, the other grey with pink trim.
Things I noticed as I watched this slow-motion dance was how it created interesting perspective and line with a human body, perspective and line that moved, yes, but in a way that let us see the subtleties the human body is capable of. Because it was a silent piece, the soundtrack became the sound bleeding in from outside the room---people moving, sound installations from other pieces in the show (yes, a show called Silence has sound pieces), and whatever sound the viewers made in the space. One fellow had on shoes with rubber soles that squeaked and echoed in the place with every step he took.
The audience is interesting to watch in these situations. Unless they're used to this sort of performance, many don't know what to make of it. For a time, I was the only person in the room. It occurred to me that someone might come in and mistake me as part of the performance (an idea that delighted me and I nearly played into it, but decided it wasn't polite to the artist or "real" performer). Some people poked their head into the room only to withdraw. One young girl looked in and seemed startled to see a the performer on the floor and quickly exited. She returned in a minute or two with an adult male (her father, I presume) but she still seemed cautious about this whole situation. Another gentleman seemed to know the performer and walked up close to her and said something, but too quietly for me to make out.
I think this sort of performance has an intimacy to it that unnerves some viewers. The number of people who barely cross the door's threshold only to duck out before they saw 30 seconds of the performance. Some, I suspect, are the sort who simply reject this type of performance as art and can't be bothered with it. (I was probably one of them 15 years ago.) But I suspect some find the intimacy too much, voyeuristic, somehow creating a relationship that happens too soon and they have to get away before there's a commitment made they don't want to keep.
I was much enthralled by the simplicity of the performance, not to mention the commitment to it by the performer. I hope the marks on the wall from the shoes remain throughout the show---I want to go back and see those accumulate. I simply want to go back and see other performers. I understand there are a number of performers engaged for the run of Silence.
Is this a review? No, just musings.I can understand why some may not wish to view this---it is challenging in it its own way, and the title of the piece gives the view very little to hang a hat on. But for me, I could have watched longer. And probably will.
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I really didn't have much time for the Menil this afternoon, so I didn't take in much of the larger Silence exhibit. I did, however, see a short film by Manon de Boer called Two Times 4'33" (2008). Click on the title to see a rather accurate description of the piece.
Besides loving that it's produced by an outfit called Auguste Orts (my grandfather's name was August, so all the better!) I loved the way this film used all the things John Cage was after with this piece. The ambient sound as soundtrack, then the film's silence as the museum's ambient sound, again, became the soundtrack, the filming of the faces, first of the performer and then of the audience---all fascinating to watch.
But I couldn't help but think of another film interpretation of 4'33", seen in 2010 at the Contemporary Art Museum, Houston in the Dance with Camera show. In that film, Merce (Manchester) (2007) by Tacita Dean, Merce Cunningham, two years before his death, sits in a chair, "dancing" to the piece his partner in life and art had created decades before. It's a poignant yet whimsical piece that delighted me when I saw it
These two films are quite different in how they interpret Cage's score and both made me smile. It makes me wonder how many films have been made of 4'33"and if it's time for a 4'33" film festival.