I am formulating this response a long while after seeing Eben Kowler’s piece Youngest Child and can still recall what choices he made that were successful to me. He opened up the space in the Red Eye by starting the dance partially in the audience and in the risers. It seemed that two of the dancers would be in the house for a good amount of time and I turned around in my chair to watch them. From my front row seat I was then faced with the squirminess of audience members who chose not to turn around and instead focus on the stage, where the performances typically take place. I felt like Eben used the action happening with two dancers onstage as a foil for the real show which was taking place behind us. Kara Motta and Karen Gullikson’s flanking of the audience and flirtatious sidelong glances as they traversed the steps (reminding me also of Hijack’s hang-drops from the truss beam, dressed as the Kennedys, some years ago in the same space), carefully measuring each other’s progress, felt sneaky and calculated and the fact that the lights were up in the house gave the piece a feeling of potency and nervousness that I enjoyed. I was aware that because my back was turned I was missing whatever was onstage just like the audience members who chose to look straight ahead. They were seeing something I was not and vice-versa and I felt surprisingly competitive about this and substantially concerned with who was getting a better deal. Eben used the risers effectively like a tide’s ebb and flow.
As these two dancers made their way onto the stage to join the others and the house lights dimmed, I felt like I was off the hook and the piece lost some of its potency. The lights onstage cast a warm, relaxed glow that informed me I was safe and nothing dangerous was about to happen. I missed that little flutter in my chest and wondered how the piece would have read if the house lights remained up the entire time.
Some images retained and evoked by this piece included:
- Margaret Johnson’s hair as a mop
- Ragstock back section of glitter clothing rack
- singing through fabric
- Mamas & Papas
- Sandra Dee song in Grease, slumber party giggling
- lurking danger, Zodiac killer
- The Virgin Suicides
- clever contradictions
- And then there were 2 dance sections in unison featuring 2 vs. 2
Also successful was a slow, deliberate descent into the stage and the “pit” between the audience and stage. Something happened with time here and I remember trying to luxuriate in it and soak it up.
I loved the singing and didn’t realize Maggie Zepp was really singing behind Margaret. I would like to hear her sing more. I was impressed with this illusion and was was super satisfied to have been fooled about this. I adored the ending where they thanked us for coming and bid us goodbye into the microphone and this conclusion convinced me that this work was so many things felt at once: self-loathing, critical, smart, self-aware, endearing, fake, genuine, knowing and naive.
Eben Kowler’s Youngest Child, New Works 4 Weeks, Red Eye Theater, May 29-June 1, 2014