Under the Current
Illusion Theater, MN Fringe Festival
August 6, 2015
Review by Non Edwards
The Fringe is a hard sell in the dance community. The “anything goes, everything is chance, but obey our rules” culture can be off-putting. Strict protocol and a tight schedule mean that producers don’t have access to the venue until 20 minutes before the show starts (making it particularly hard to warm up for a dance performance), the show schedule is decided for them, and all of the staff report to the Fringe and according to the Fringe’s rules. Producers have little say over what happens outside of their 50 minutes on stage. Fringe tickets are expensive for the format, it costs $18 to see one show because, in addition to the $14 ticket, each attendee needs a $4 Fringe button to gain entry. Fringe hands out artist passes (up to six) to each producer-this provides free entry to unlimited shows for these artists-and each producer also gets 20 complimentary tickets to distribute for their own show, also the staff selling tickets and ushering are volunteering in exchange for free tickets, so there are a lot of people in the audience who haven’t paid anything at all.
On the other hand, as a lottery, every participant has a (generally) equal chance of getting a show. Fringe also provides a deadline, a website that amasses thousands of hits during its run, some great technical talent (lighting designers), and access to most of the venues far below their normal performance rental rate. Fringe puts a lot of resources into branding the festival, and audiences familiar with the Fringe come in with an understanding of this context. As you take your seat, you know that you will be ushered out of the theater in 60 minutes or less.
What Sharon Picasso is able to do with Under the Current in the context of the Fringe is amazing. There is nothing campy or amateur, nothing low-budget or rushed-feeling about this show. Picasso foregoes the benefit of the Fringe-assigned lighting designer and puts herself to the task of crafting a fully self-lit performance by utilizing only practicals-canned lights, lamps, fluorescents, and LEDs-controlled by the performers on stage and as part of the performance. The soundscore is all Picasso as well, mechanical noises, pre-recorded interviews, sounds of crickets, passing vehicles, a little bit of a classical composition floating off in the distance and some strong musical tones hitting resonating notes for a few long moments and then never returning. The atmosphere created by these elements is one that is dark, contemplative, industrial, emotional, natural, and sonorous.
Section I, “Under the Current,” begins in darkness. Jesse Neumann-Peterson takes the stage in this blackout that is not entirely black. After a good long pause, once the AC unit starts humming (or was that the soundscore?), he flips the switch on a lamp on a desk. He is winding twine balls. There’s force in the gesture, the twine has to be pulled tight, it has to be constantly wrapping around itself or it will unravel. A pre-recorded interview is interspliced. A man’s voice talking about retirement. He sermonizes about the importance of work. Who is this man? Is he someone Picasso knows? Is it her late father? Is it her grandfather? Did she just find this track on the internet? I don’t know. It’s captivating. It’s not constant, it’s interspersed with many other sounds, it has an ebb and flow. He speaks about the importance of having a good woman at home-a good wife. He talks about when he first met his wife and how, “her thoughts about things were like mine.” It sounds traditional, his speech feels outdated, white, working class.
Neumann-Peterson performs full-bodied movements akin to chopping wood and tearing down boards from the side of an old farm house. They are strong, aggressive movements with a rhythmic repetition. There is a small turning gesture, then large full-bodied undulations, waves breaking right to left, up and down, forward and back. Neumann-Peterson performs everything with ease and grace, and this is all the virtuoso the audience needs to know that he is skilled and fully present. A mechanical noise provides a beat for a bouncing, bobbing interrupted task, carrying a baby, jabbing, putting things away, and swinging punches. A moan escapes Neumann-Peterson, sounding grief-stricken and real. It’s momentary. Now he has hunched shoulders, his eyes are closed, he’s grimacing and performing softer gestures, sewing, weaving, conducting. His tactile feet carry him to a metal frame and he turns on a series harsh, fluorescent lights. The soundtrack sounds like a respirator. Neumann-Peterson is sitting in a wheeled computer chair, pushing himself across stage, always backwards. The man on tape professes his love for his wife. We hear her say, “he’s emotional, honest, compassionate… I have no doubt that he loves me.” What does she feel for him?
Section II, “it’s not a bad thing, it’s just precarious” is a kind of interlude performed by Sharon Picasso. She weaves her way around the stage making changes in the lighting and set like someone tidying up their home and putting things back into their proper place. I am reminded of going camping once as teenager and waiting too late to set up our tent, my friend and I trying to erect it in the dark with our flashlights.
Like all the performers in this show, Picasso’s presence is generous. Most of this section is this kind of pedestrian task work. But for about two minutes, downstage right, Picasso is rocking and gesturing, moving so fast I can’t see, her body is blurring into streaks of wavy light, her arms have disintegrated into flesh-colored ribbons, her hair is flying, catching light. She rolls, she senses her body. She pulls gestures out of her abdomen/solar plexus, she feels her face, she lets her hands fall along her thighs as she pliés and stands. Then she retreats, and she raises the bridge of power cables so that Heidi can glide under.
Section III, “TAPAS or Rumbling Instar,” is a solo for Heidi Kalweit. She glides onstage curled on a rolling square low to the floor, with a rod protruding in the center of it laced with small lights. Kalweit stands and points downstage right. Her other hand points to her nose. She circles within her kinesphere and traces her toes to her inner thighs. She is referencing the space and her own body, she is having some kind bodily struggle. Once this solo gets going, it carries a momentum. Kalweit circles center stage and begins dancing powerfully and fully, open to the audience. It sounds like her voice and Sharon’s on the soundscore, Kalweit saying “tell me what to do…. tell me what to do and I’ll do it! I don’t need… I’m on the dock and I want to get back in the water ..!” The interview in this section is practically inaudible save for this moment, and it takes a back seat to the performance.
I think Kalweit seems lonely, gliding across the floor searching for something. She repeats the same phrase with slightly different arrangements, minute mini-variations. When the lights go out, I feel ready for the end.
Lights come back on. Kalweit is turning on fluorescent lights around the edges of the wheeled dolly. Once lit up on all sides, it has a festive look. Sliding into the fetal position center stage, Kalweit begins to swing it around her body. The dolly builds momentum and Kalweit swings it round and round. It looks like chariot on fire, or a sun orbiting Kalweit’s body. It feels triumphant; it feels age-old. History repeating itself, mankind running through the same cycles so many times we don’t remember, the eternal return. She brings the dolly to a halt and slowly double clicks each fluorescent light off in sequence. It is a spectacular ending.