Soft Fences


photo credit: Megan Mayer

SOFT FENCES : by Megan Mayer

for criticism exchange – s. picasso

“It’s time to guide this capsule if you dare. … I’m floating in the most peculiar way and the stars look very different today.”                  – David Bowie, “Space Oddity”

Megan Mayer’s most recent work at the Red Eye Theater is dense in themes, visuals, ideas, negative space, deep emotional content and casual, along with not so casual, expressions of all. FEAR is one of the strongest of emotions I sensed in the work. FEAR of the unknown, FEAR of the known we pack for such unknowable journeys, FEAR of exposure, FEAR of writing – expressing my own opinions/thoughts from a cocoon of virtual anonymity and the FEAR that one sidles up to when creating an evening length work.

Space travel is the backdrop and contextual vehicle Mayer uses in ‘Soft Fences’. Possessing an idea, examining, exploring, and expanding it, adding other humans to it, throwing money at it, inviting more humans to throw their money at it and sit in a dark room together to see said possessed idea to launch – maybe to fly, maybe to crash and burn – like space travel, producing a show takes an enormous amount of courage, self possession and fortitude that would make any astronaut proud. This is something I believe to be fundamentally true in performance as an art form.

Mayer uses Red Eye’s simultaneously void and lush space to her advantage by setting the audience on two sides in an ‘L’ shape which immediately suggests that we will all be having different experiences and it is up to us to make this choice. The opening video of an orbiting astronaut, Chris Hadfield, performing David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” in its entirety set the speed and tone of the work. This would be an evening of work that would take its time. The rising sun illuminated onto the performance space from offstage through a slit in the door.

Themes of isolation within a vastness were introduced early in the work. Because Red Eye Theater is such an airy black box, I struggled to feel the encapsulation of a vessel contrasting with the aloneness of endless space. I am very curious to see this same work performed in a confined and cold space like a shipping container or public bathroom. Pack us all in.

Highlights for me in Soft Fences :

  • Elliott Durko Lynch at the ‘control panel’ literally controlling light, sound, video and audio. A conduit successfully utilized by Mayer to connect performers, audience, and shift scenes and mood. Profoundly capable in grounding the performance, fellow performers and audience with his calm presence and distinctively soothing and confidant voice (complete with helmet).
  • The duet ‘ Soft Fences’ (originally performed in earlier incarnations by Mayer and Greg Waletski) performed by Mayer and Jim Domenick in this production, was the fetus for this evening length production of the same title and theme. A delicate, concise, poignant duet that Mayer, in particular, revealed a cellular fullness, a just-enough-ness in effort and an emotional depth that was palatable and generous without a reliance on storyline or reason. A type of performance that at the core is authentically felt and gently lives inside the performer.
  • Mayer embraced and highlighted the reasons we love the Red Eye and it’s uniqueness: the don’t-look-at-us nooks, the almost not a step ‘thrust’, the ‘just because you are in the raised sound booth we can toooootally see you window, and the carpet moat between kind of a thrust and the audience/sorry-I’m-walking-in-front-of-the-performers-but-I-have-to-go to-the-bathroom runway.
  • The brief and almost incidental dialogue/”carpet moat” duet if not for the strength and sensitivity of the performers Angharad Davies and Charles Cambell in which the composed under cosmic pressure Davies decomposed under Cambell’s cool exchange.
  • Angharad Davies and her video fed expedition to the Red Eye chandeliered lobby in her media wonder suit honestly reporting steady-voiced and focus-faced from the cosmos “…I’m feeling a little afraid now”. A moment that I felt gave gravity and realization to the work. To continue walking into the unknown without a map, only slightly tethered to real, to concrete, transitioning in existence as we know it.

Mayer stayed true to her choreographic/directive aesthetic. Dripping with mod style, subtle movements and swanky vocabulary, Megan Mayer initiated a successful dialogue with heavy and complex emotional ideas within a cerebral structure as NASA Human Space Flight.

I experienced this expansion of Soft Fences as a necessary step in realizing an idea, the initial hoisting of an experiment out of the brain, working it out with ‘the team’ and airing it in front of witnesses to see what exactly the produced animal is after the dust settles. In this case the separate parts were at times not seamed congruently. I felt the work was primed for refinement, editing and focus on identity. I did, however, perceive a strong contextual current. If Mayer decides to continue incarnations of this evening length work I believe it will reveal a potent, uniquely voiced, and mature expedition.

From Mayer in the program notes: “Soft Fences is about resilience and how I learned that it’s okay to be lost for a while. If you have felt or are feeling lost, this piece is for and about you, too.”

Soft Fences

December 4 – 7, 2014

Red Eye Theater Minneapolis

Response by Sharon Picasso


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