Last night I went to Callanwolde for Kit Modus’ Me/diums with choreography by Porter Grubbs. This post is probably more about my state of mind last night than the actual piece of work that I saw, although I am ostensibly writing about the piece. The two or three friends who read this blog because they are interested in my thoughts and feelings about the stuff that I go to might want to read on but you other few people who just found this by Googling yourselves might want to skip it. Or at least take anything negative in it with a grain of salt: I really don’t feel that I was able to give it a fair shake.
I had a pretty unpleasant week at work because of a project that’s gone poorly. I got to go home early yesterday, which was great because I totally needed a disco nap, but it still didn’t give me enough time to shake off the day before I went out. As I was walking to Callanwolde, I realized that I’ve not been since I moved to my current apartment a little under four years ago despite the fact that it’s less than a mile from me. It’s not that it’s a bad space, but I’ve always felt uncomfortable there for some reason. This is at least the second dance concert that I’ve seen there and I’ve been for a fairly bland chamber concert as well as once with some friends to tour the place and see some gallery exhibition. I don’t really remember much about anything else that I’ve seen there but I do recall the general feeling that I just don’t belong there for some reason. It’s not that the people there are inhospitable and I’m perfectly comfortable in other mansions: it’s just some odd feeling that I always seem to have when I’m there.
On top of my discomfort with the venue, I was there alone — as I usually am for any dance performance. Going anywhere alone can feel awkward to me and, given how few others seem to go out alone the way that I do, it’s probably a common feeling. This feeling is often made worse at semi-professional dance concerts, though, because it is often the case that nearly everyone else there has some social, professional, or familial connection to someone involved in the production. This was compounded by the fact that the house didn’t really open for this work until after an introductory solo and we were left to mingle in the great hall, which made me feel like I was at a cocktail party to which I wasn’t invited and with nobody interested in talking to me. I even tried to get past my shyness to strike up a conversation with someone who turned out to be one of the musicians’ father but he ignored me – or it’s possible that he didn’t hear me, if I’m to give him the benefit of the doubt – until he wanted me to take his picture with his son. All of this on top of the horrible mood that I was in from my work day made the whole thing feel so much worse than it normally does to be at such performances alone and I ended up feeling fairly alienated. Some wine might have helped but I’m finishing up a course of antibiotics so I couldn’t drink.
The point of my puerile pity party above is to say that I was not at all in the right mindset to see a new work by a choreographer with whom I am unfamiliar performed by a company that I’ve never seen before. I found myself just not wanting to be there and my thoughts kept poisoning my perception of the work. I recall one moment thinking that Grubbs was trying too hard to be interesting before catching myself and taking an honest look and realizing that what I was seeing was actually interesting. There was this struggle in my mind between some bitterness at my discomfort and my enjoyment of the work. My writeup below mostly focuses on the negatives of the work because that is what my mindset would allow to be most salient to me. Hopefully I managed to avoid being cruel: the artists do not deserve that. I have spent more time on writing (though not editing, which is probably pretty obvious) this writeup than I have on any other that I’ve written before, which is way out of proportion to the magnitude of the piece or its impact on me and I have no idea why I’ve done it. I suppose that I suspect that this isn’t an ensemble that performs very often and I don’t want to leave an overly negative review that might prevent a forgetful future Robbie from seeing a show that he might otherwise enjoy. Or, perhaps, I just have nothing else that I feel like doing with my Saturday morning.
So now on to my take on the show and the whole reason for me actually being there. My first unnecessarily snarky comment about it relates to the title. Can we please stop with the “clever” punctuation in titles? There are two or three pieces a year with this kind of title and half the time it’s impossible to know how to refer to the work out loud. Don’t you want us to talk about your work?
Other: What did you do last weekend?
Audience Member: I went to see Mediums…Mi Diums…Meh Diems…er…a dance piece at Callanwolde.
Audience Member: …
*Sound of swords being unsheathed*
Is this what the artist really wants? To drive us to overuse ellipses until a sword fight breaks out all Ninja Gaiden-style? There was no real explanation for the title offered, but presumably they wanted to emphasize the “Me” in the word “medium” in order to reference to the narcissistic tendencies prevalent on the various social media. I suppose one could stretch a bit and make some use of the fact that “Me dium” is Latin for “My god” to imply a sort of deification of our social networks, placing an almost sacred importance on how we appear to others in the various social media. That doesn’t really pluralize with an ‘s’ so it could be a play on the Te Dium hymn, which can pluralize with an ‘s’, narcissistically replacing the “You, God” with “Myself, God.” I didn’t get the impression that it had much to do to with people who channel spirits, which is the only form of “Medium” that actually pluralizes to “Mediums” in the English language, but I could be wrong. Regardless of what Grubbs was going for with this title, it simply is not worth all of the ellipses and sword fights that this kind of ambiguity inspires.
The work was staged in two locations: an introductory solo in the great hall and an ensemble piece with some video projections in the indoor courtyard. There was live musical accompaniment by Rogue Jury in the way of some decent but unremarkable atmospheric music performed on electric guitar, bass, and electronic sounds with an occasional human voice thrown in the mix. Costuming was fairly simple. The soloist in the great hall wore a tan dance belt and wrapped himself in two large pieces of gossamer, one which served as a skirt of sorts and the other was a top that came off and on throughout his the performance. The ensemble were painted with irregular red and blue streaks and blotches over some tan dance shorts and (for the women) tops and had gossamer bunched up around their bodies. The paint created a modestly interesting aesthetic but also broke up their lines, making their movements somewhat less clear and distinct, which I suspect was unintentional. At least it went along the lines of the body, so it didn’t muddy the movement as terribly as it might have.
The performance began with a solo by Grubbs. As I mentioned above, this happened in the great hall and started without introduction. It was performed in the round, though I’m not sure that was really intended to be so as I think that the movement was mostly performed towards a sizable semicircle. Even if it was intended, it is pretty difficult to make a solo performance work in the round: there isn’t the same kind of flexibility or complexity of shape as what one gets from an ensemble. Three rather oblivious people who didn’t realize at first that Grubbs had taken the stage and that they were in the way managed to plant themselves a few paces in front of the part of the part of audience circle that I was in so I ended up having to move all the way to the back where the musicians were to see and I suspect that this was probably one of the worst perspectives from which to watch the performance.
The dancing seemed to be an exploration of vanity. He struck a lot of silly beauty poses in the beginning before whirling around a lot, playing with the gossamer. I’m honestly not sure how much of it was my mood and how much my physical perspective might have influenced my opinion, but I found it to be rather tedious. If I found it tedious, I didn’t find myself wanting to look away: I felt that he did a good job of balancing small and soft movements with more frenetic ones in a way that kept a pace that could hold audience members’ attention reasonably well.
Even from a better perspective, I’d probably have found his use of the top piece of gossamer to be rather uninspired. He twirled it around, used it as a cloak and cowl, and eventually pressed his face against it to mug for the audience. It did manage to provide one small moment that impressed me: Grubbs slipped on it at one point, falling rather quickly onto his hip. I mean, that wasn’t impressive and I certainly took no joy in it, but what impressed me was his recovery, which was incredibly smooth. I suspect that some of what he did immediately afterward that had him on the floor may have been to compensate for the shock of the fall. Hopefully he didn’t injure himself seriously, especially with another performance this evening. And I think he makes his living teaching dance, so he probably can’t take much time to rest if he wants to eat and make rent, sadly.
At the end of the solo, the audience was ushered into the courtyard where a dance floor was surrounded on four sides by two rows of chairs for the audience. A quartet of dancers from Kit Modus were already in place in the middle of the floor, posing with a crisscrossing web of strings connecting them to each other. They held this position while a video played that didn’t really appeal to me. It was the dancers of the company, not in makeup, performing a variety of choreography with different points of focus and levels of zoom from the camera such that sometimes they were barely even in the shot. As the live dancers finally began to perform, video was projected around the room. I have no idea what was in it, though, because it’s not really possible for audience members to watch both the video and the dancers and I had come to see a live performance and chose to focus on the dancers instead. I have no idea why so many choreographers want to draw eyes aways from their dancers using video, but I find it kind of annoying.
During moments where I let myself get into it, the choreography was pretty interesting and it worked much better in the round. Bits that stuck with me included the way that the dancers movements were constrained and partially controlled by the web connecting their various body parts in the beginning. They moved as a single entity, creating something more than just the individual parts but still maintaining their respective individual characters. I also enjoyed thinking about a part where one dancer had been sort of patted and petted by the other dancers but then moved away from them and watched as they continued as though she were still there. I read it as a statement on the distance people have from their public personae on social media and the voyeuristic manner in which they watch others react to their posts.
Overall, I didn’t enjoy myself but I don’t think that’s really the fault of the company or the choreographer. I’d probably be interested in seeing something else by either, hopefully, though, when I’m in the right frame of mind to see it.