IMPRESSIONS OF: Palissimo Company and Endangered Pieces
Venue: Abrons Arts Center
October 4, 2013
Concept and Direction: Pavel Zustiak
Performers: Christian Frederickson, Bobby McElver, Matthew Rogers, Jaro Vinarsky,
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Uncanny how apt and timely that this sobering, apocalyptic performance was presented on the week of the government shutdown! Maureen Dowd’s brilliant op-ed in the New York Times on 10/6/13 imagining the US seven decades after the shutdown might be a prologue for Zustiak’s performance. She writes, “Tea Party zombies, thrilled with the dark destruction they have wreaked on the planet, continue to marraud around the Hill, eager to chomp on humanity some more.” Zustiak casts his zombies as dead-pan (excuse the pun) construction workers who methodically analyze what can be done with a dead, naked body. They handle it almost as though it were a doll they don’t especially like or need, nor do we the viewers after a spell.
At one point, the curtain drops and rebounds to reveal the three performers, naked, backs to audience, slowly sliding down their own pole. This controlled descent gives you time to consider crucifixion scenes and why we are all condemned to such a sad demise, as well as to recall the Japanese dance troupe Sankai Juku who also dangled naked, head to ground, in theaters and outside buildings.
Zustiak explores his chosen subject as though he were an earnest engineer on assignment or an architectural student and we, the viewer, are privy to his studies. Cleverly, the backdrop, paneled with wood strips of various lengths, comes tumbling down midway through the show with rhythmic finesse, leaving an outline of a cityscape, with the rubble of the collapsed wall as its front lawn. The three performers, now clothed, take sticks from the rubble to play a variation of Blockhead, a 1950s Family party game in which one adds blocks to a growing tower without allowing it to collapse. The workers seem to suggest that we must recycle everything into some kind of sculpture, if not a means of support. Zustiak is training us to treat our current precarious dance with fate as a game that we must learn to play, ideally, with a philosophical distance.
The voiceover for Endangered Pieces sets up a meditation, followed by a series of existentialist questions about the last man in an empty space. “Is he trying to build a logic” What kind of man does this? How long can he bare this position?” How can one experience this work without being drawn into the ‘why” and “how,” rather than “what” Zustiak actually does in his performance. For that, Zustiak, born in Kosice, Czechoslovakia is a splendid ambassador for The School of New Dance Development in Amsterdam, where he was trained.