Impressions of: Molly Lieber and Eleanor Smith's “Basketball” as part of PS122's COIL Festival at Baryshnikov Arts Center
Tuesday, January 10, 2017
Baryshnikov Arts Center as part of PS122’s COIL 2017 Festival
Choreographed and performed by Molly Lieber and Eleanor Smith
Lighting Design by Thomas Dunn
Costume Design and construction by Claire Fleury
Set by Liliana Dirks-Goodman
Sound Design by James Lo
In the opening of Basketball, Molly Lieber holds Eleanor Smith by the waist upside down as if Lieber was a young girl carelessly towing her baby doll through the dirt. She lays Smith down and then vigorously rolls and drags her. The act, unwieldy and labored, suggests the weight of fraught experiences that women carry.
Basketball is not part of the duo’s acclaimed triptych (Beautiful Bone, Tulip, and Rude World), yet it revisits many of its motifs, including nakedness, the ritual of dressing, and intertwining bodies. Despite these revisited images, this premiere is fresh and poignant.
Throughout the work, the two women, collaborators since 2006, are seen in various states of undress. They pose in tableaus evoking a range of characters from Grecian Olympians to coquettish creatures. Costumes by Claire Fleury resemble athletic wear with a Barbie twist. A cropped pink shirt, a sparkly gold bra, and gauzy shirts are strewn about.
Basketball develops at a glacial pace, which may frustrate some while enrapturing others. Lieber and Smith inhabit angled poses for minutes at a time. Occasionally, they change their facing so the audience, sitting on two sides, gains a new perspective. In these moments, positions that initially look pedestrian can then be perceived through an erotic lens. The performers, however, aren’t overt in the movement’s intention. Our association guides us to these interpretations.
In one instance, Lieber juts her hip out at a dramatic angle and thrusts her chest forward — a vixen who only seconds earlier appeared like a Rodin sculpture. In another, the performers squirm through the opening of two chairs atop a long table. At first, this task seems playful. But as time goes on, their naked red butts, wedged in between the chairs’ gaps, flare toward the ceiling. In a rare moment of text, Smith reveals between gritted teeth and a pasted-on smile, that she was raped 13 years ago. Implications of submission and shame seep into the theater.
Witnessing these transitions is emotional even under the artists’ neutral guises. Though their score is simple, Lieber and Smith’s renderings are impactful. Basketball is simultaneously beautiful and tragic, revealing the dualities that swim beneath our own skin.
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Read Impressions here, including reviews of other past COIL Festival performances, including Jillian Pena and Untitled Feminist Show
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