Theresa Madaus: Real/Fake til you make

L&ATheresa used words spoken into a microphone from offstage as the opening of this piece, while the stage remained dark, describing something that we think is either our perspective in the audience or a representation of our perspective in the audience. Until it becomes somewhat impossible: a curtain pulling back in a performer’s torso revealing a second, miniature stage holding a second miniature performer. Then a phone rings in the audience. And the voice describes our reaction, or a representation of our reaction, to this phone ringing. What is real what is fake, yes, but also — what is next? which leads us to: what is happening? which to me is one of the most interesting and productive questions to be forced to confront in a performance.

Lights come up and the performer, Rachel Clark, enters, in lots of gold. There is plenty of lamé and the influence (or confluence within Theresa, I suppose) of the playfully chaotic work of Mad King Thomas is apparent. In the choreography, the lip-synching to Lionel Richie’s Hello, there is balanced a kind of camp and a level of sincerity that is evasive. Not because it is coy or uncertain, but because it is playing with the two sides of Theresa’s hyphenated title. While it isn’t clear to me what the result of authenticity would be in this case, it doesn’t matter: because it is the flexibility, the fluidity, the mutability that seems to be the material here. It is clearly, apparently, immediately fluid — in the way that the electric fan is held by the audience to blow the gold lamé wrap is a clear, apparent, and immediate way to refer to a production value that is itself a reference to an entire politics of performance, and performed self (one that is never clear, apparent, or immediate). This fluidity is held in opposition to an unquestioned authenticity that few of us feel regularly if ever, and many of us hold to be damaging and unhealthy because of its distorting confinement.

At one point, Rachel glides backward to the rear of the stage accomplishing a cross-body arm move that resembles simultaneously a punch, a dismissive wave, and a beckoning gesture all at once. Facial expression feeds into this boundary-crossing as Rachel alternately beams in what might be Las Vegas-show-type mask, theatrically expresses a range of emotions, and/or maintains a smooth “neutral” face (what I have heard Theresa herself call “pomo dancer face”). It appears to be everything all at once.

The second part is accompanied by Adele’s Hello. It is performed partially in lip-synch with the aid of a small rectangular gold frame and Rachel’s fingers, walking. Yes: Hello Hello. The blatant repetition, or recurring genetic trait, of the greeting as structuring motif could be seen as part of Theresa’s “over-the-top-imagery,” but I think it is more accurately an instance of our return, as an observing audience, to meet the performance again in its new/different/second/other face. This section didn’t seem to have the same camp/sincerity dichotomy at play, but instead seemed to disrupt scale, performance, effort, and choreography — allowing us, in the context of watching a student dance concert, to depart not only from these (rather loose) politics and habits of watching, but also from the politics and habits of the first Hello section. What is happening?

There are clear parallels in this piece to drag performance and the “identity construction and trapped queer longings” that Theresa mentions in the program bio, and it is clear that these historically informed techniques and forms play a part in the flexible nature of the Real/Fake binary as presented by this work that undermines the binaries of other identities (gender, performance, desire, etc.).

The choice of having two Hello songs structure the piece acts to fold the performance back against itself, but there is also a folding in the way the movement vocabulary contained (particularly as Theresa’s vocabulary is performed by Rachel Clark’s body) both a periodic, almost vaudevillian theatrical mode, and a more fluid, gestural, contemporary dance mode. But for me the most interesting aspect of the fluidity in this performance is the way it seems to escape any trapping, in the way that desire evades stability. As each movement departs from the stability of an initial interpretation it opens the door to a further, opposite (or at least, different) interpretation. As each half folds against the other, both in performed time and in memory, the implied comparisons close off initial stabilities in favor of fluidities and uncertainty. What is happening?

Well?

Theresa Madaus
Real/Fake til you make
Zenon Dance Zone Concert
Hennepin Center for the Arts, Studio 4A
March 12, 2016
Charles Campbell

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