3.5 / Review

Faye Driscoll: Work in Progress Showing

By Kate Mattingly November 15, 2011

Faye Driscoll is a fearless choreographer: young, smart, and intensely creative. In an October 29, 2011, performance with Jesse Zaritt at CounterPULSE, Driscoll presented parts of an unfinished duet called Not... Not, which has been commissioned by the Kitchen and is set to premiere in April 2012. Conflicting selves—and conflicting desires—instigate, inhabit, and complicate the interactions of the dancers. Driscoll's work perfectly blends somatic and conceptual explorations, and inspires the questions: For whom do we perform? And are we ever not performing?

Driscoll's work calls to mind Richard Schechner's famous description of multiple selves coexisting in an unresolved dialectical tension.1 Different states of being transform the performers' bodies; torsos, limbs, and faces appear pulled by needs and wants. Their interactions range from playful to distant to aggressive. Driscoll, in one of the more animalistic and jarring scenes, grunts at Zaritt with a bundle of rope stuffed in her mouth. Other times she is grace personified, executing a phrase of low arabesques like a skater gliding on ice. Zaritt elicits laughter when he poses like a bodybuilder; his muscles are as chiseled as a statue of Adonis. When their bodies intertwine, Driscoll glances at the audience over her shoulder, as if checking on us. For the duration of Not... Not, roles, identities, and feelings continually emerge and liquefy: causal relationships between action and reaction, doing and watching trigger thoughts about display and reciprocity, expectations and posturing, posing and craving.

After forty minutes of material, Driscoll joined CounterPULSE director Jessica Robinson Love on stage. The ensuing conversation revealed how alongside a diversity of approaches to dance by artists today, there are varying degrees of engagement offered to audiences. Even though post-performance discussions have become a common technique for generating feedback, their efficacy varies depending on context and structure. Shannon Jackson writes about the "conversational stall" that can occur in these settings, describing them as "misfires where the ever-sought hope for artist-scholar exchange is ever deferred."2 Talks can disintegrate into awkward exchanges of words that dampen an experience that was originally intimate and visceral; attempts to resolve conflicting points of view or explain intent can end up muddling the impact of images and ideas.

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Not... Not, 2011 (still); performance, CounterPULSE, San Francisco, October 29, 2011. Courtesy of the Artist. Photo: Ian Douglass.

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Not... Not, 2011; performance, CounterPULSE, San Francisco, October 29, 2011. Courtesy of the Artist. Photo: Christopher Duggan.

But CounterPULSE transforms such moments of frustration into illumination by flipping the post-performance structure: instead of encouraging the audience to probe the artist's process, the artist presents questions and solicits feedback from the audience. After the showing of Not... Not, Driscoll's questions for the audience included, "What story did you tell yourself about what was happening on stage?" Surprisingly, the theater remained full during this discussion section, and audience members were not only invested in Driscoll's process but also responding to comments from one another. People spoke about ways the duet disrupted, challenged, and exposed ideas about masculinity and femininity. Others talked about the vulnerability of intimacy, the dissolving of emotions, the resurfacing of primordial instincts, and the possibility for a "beautiful ugly." Driscoll added that this work began with a desire to explore her own ideas about beauty. When the hour-long formal discussion ended, audience members lingered to talk in small groups.

This type of post-performance discussion may not successfully happen often, but perhaps it may not need to. Some performances are presented as completed projects, and post-performance talks elucidate paths that have served to bring an artist's work to fruition. What Driscoll offered, both in her choreographic material and the exchange that followed, was a chance to see performance as an integral part of interaction and conversation. Dialogue emerged among strangers, propositions were presented and developed, people engaged with one another to share and discuss points of view. Even if it makes sense for structures that support artists to evolve as the artists' works develop, it's rare to find organizations as adaptable, flexible, and open to change as the artists themselves.

 

 

Faye Driscoll: Work in Progress Showing was on view at CounterPULSE, in San Francisco, on October 29, 2011.

 

 

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NOTES:

1. Richard Schechner, Between Theater and Anthropology (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1985), 6.

2. Shannon Jackson, Professing Performance: Theatre in the Academy from Philology to Performativity, (Cambridge University Press, 2004), 111.

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