By ELAINE MOLINARO
For Montclair Local
Joy, Outrage. Discomfort. Those are some of the emotions Faye Driscoll says on her website (fayedriscoll.com) that she wants viewers to feel when they see her dances “that are mistaken for plays and load-in like installations.”
This viewer powerfully felt a roller coaster of emotions in Driscoll’s riveting world premiere, “Space,” the third piece in her “Thank You for Coming” series at Montclair State University’s Peak Performances, which played April 9-14. Driscoll’s first and second installments, “Attendance” which opened at Danspace in 2014 and “Play” at BAM in 2016 were seen for the first time together this past fall at MSU as part of a multi-year PeARL (Performing Arts Research Laboratory) residency.
In this final chapter, Driscoll, the winner of such prestigious honors as a Bessie Award for exceptional achievement in dance, a Guggenheim fellowship and a Jerome Foundation grant among others, electrified her audience with a visceral embodiment of grief and loss combined with a fierce proclamation of the ecstasy of living.
IN YOUR FACE
The audience, limited to 60 people, entered the Alexander Kasser Theater through the stage doors to find, behind the closed black curtains, a long lane of paintings from all eras laid out on the floor of the stage depicting the human form. There were bodies reaching, bodies reclining, bodies falling. Driscoll echoed these positions in the choreography. This installation of a visual arts “road” led us to the performance space set-up as a white square box in the wings of the theater. The only color to break up this brightly lit white setting could be found hung from white cords on pulleys including a yellow lemon, the green leaves of eucalyptus branches and small blue sandbags. The square shape with the second row of chairs on risers allowed Driscoll to easily access the audience. Her proximity sometimes became uncomfortable especially as she became increasingly dirty, sweaty, and right in your face.
While the first two pieces in the choreographer’s “Thank You for Coming” trilogy featured ensembles of dancers, her solo performance made this piece feel more like performance art on par with renowned-performance artists Karen Finley and Holly Hughes in their provocative exploration of body image and sexuality. A woman plainly dressed in grey jeans and t-shirt, possibly a stage-hand, appeared to make what seemed at first to be the curtain speech. “Thank you for coming,” she began but kept talking and one realized this woman was Driscoll herself.
The performance had begun.
Driscoll turned the audience’s attention to our own physical beings, asking us about what we were wearing, what we ate and did we have time to use the bathroom before the start. Students giggled nervously in a back row, as they realized that this was not a piece one could politely observe from a distance. It soon became clear why the audience had to be small: they helped create the show. Driscoll asked audience members to hold the white cords, lower the hanging objects, pass clay back and forth to her, spray her with a water bottle, pour water into her mouth, hold her hands as she leaned away, and cradle her head as she rolled over us. Then, she would repeat many of these movements, but without the audience member’s support as she leaned, which gave the impression that she was evoking the memory of the previous contact, and feeling its absence.
Driscoll seemed to be reminding herself that she was alive by shocking her senses: she ate a lemon and scowled at its sharp acidity. She placed cement blocks on her outstretched torso to feel their heaviness, and pulled on the ropes to counterbalance the weight of her own body as she fell to the floor. She made sounds, and also recorded her own and those of the audience. She howled like a wolf into an overhead mic which was then sampled and played back, to become a score of crying or keening. She asked the audience to stomp their feet. The sampled rumbling grew louder and more distorted as Driscoll repeatedly yelled “Let Go” before she did a final slow motion swoon to the ground.
In the final section, Driscoll focused on what she needed to let go. Her mother passed away 18 months ago, and Driscoll shared with us her sense of bewilderment over the loss: “I don’t know what I need. I don’t know what to say. I’m not sure where I am. I really lost my place.” She stood on a platform and raised everyday objects announcing “This was your hairbrush, these were your reading glasses, this was your medication.”
Overall, Driscoll’s depiction of the physical and psychic experience of the death of a parent, knowing she could not lose sight of the need to keep living, was riveting. The way she presented the story connected the audience to our own bodies and souls and the space we inhabit.
What Driscoll does is genre defying, and intensely intimate. If you get a chance to see her, take it.