The Chocolate Factory Theater, Abrons Arts Center, and The Invisible Dog Art Center present CAST, STAGE, AUTHOR: a trilogy of works by a canary torsi / Yanira Castro
September 7-23, 2017
Director & Choreographer: Yanira Castro
Collaborators & Performers: Kyle Bukhari, Simon Courchel, Leslie Cuyjet, devynn emory, Iréne Hultman, Luke Miller, Sai Somboon, David Thomson, Jeremy Toussaint-Baptiste, Pamela Vail, Tara Aisha Willis, Darrin Wright.
Contributing Artists: John Hoobyar, Shayla-Vie Jenkins, Heather Olson.
Installation/Lighting Designer: Kathy Couch / Costume Designer (Masks for STAGE): Miodrag Guberinic.
Dramaturg: Susan Mar Landau / Composer/Programmer/Interaction Designer: Stephan Moore
Musicians for STAGE: Scott Smallwood, Suzanne Thorpe
In a well-crafted performance, its components are often so seamlessly integrated that we rarely think of them as separate. In Yanira Castro’s new trilogy, however, the parts are not only separated, they are considered greater than the whole. Investigating casting, a performer’s relationship to the audience, and representation, the ambitious project spans boroughs and disciplines to deliver works at The Chocolate Factory Theater (CAST), Abrons Art Center (STAGE), and The Invisible Dog Art Center (AUTHOR).
Upon entering AUTHOR, a participatory video installation, individuals follow a maze-like hallway that eventually leads to an office where they can play an interactive computer game. Expelling statements from interviews that Castro conducted with performers, the game gives players the chance to respond any way they wish for as long as they’d like. They can write free-associations, participate in a nonsensical Q+A (the computer uses an algorithm based on keywords players use), and even create experimental poetry — a sort of “choose your own adventure” narrative. Rather than a game where there is a winner and loser, AUTHOR is an elaborate creative writing exercise that reveals the hidden side of performers. Although a stand-alone event, it’s an enlightening contextual precursor to the performance works.
In CAST, four artists show up at The Chocolate Factory not knowing who will join them and which role they’ll assume. Once assembled, they’ll negotiate a new movement and text score that’s culled from transcribed interviews, which also appear in AUTHOR. Despite this interesting parameter and scope of material, the September 22 quartet of CAST fumbles.
Accomplished performers Iréne Hultman, Kyle Bukhari, Jeremy Toussaint-Baptiste, and Tara Aisha Willis read interviews in a stark white office set while striking poses and laying prone across audience members’ laps. Willis recites an interview with an Asian male performer as she simultaneously sucks in air — her mouth a vocal vacuum. The impact of a woman of color speaking the words of an Asian man is hampered by the distracting delivery. Later, performers cover Bukhari in tape and paper to look like an office supply monster. Some viewers are literally swept up into the self-aggrandizing madness. A whole row is covered in shiny silver paper like a tent — their view obscured for the final section.
Castro’s experimentation and risk-taking challenge the audience’s relationship to performers by knowingly exposing performance’s mundane and self-indulgent underbelly. Provoking annoyance may be one intention of the work, but CAST nevertheless frustrates as it literally dances around its subject matter rather than digging into it.
At Abrons Arts Center Playhouse Theater, a canary torsi resumes what they do best — provocative, visually stimulating performance. In STAGE, the audience sits in the balcony to observe with a bird’s-eye view the psychological journey of an artist in performance. Four performers — Simon Courchel, Leslie Cuyjet, Sai Somboon, and Pamela Vail — who, in concert with the space, defy conventional theater. Stephan Moore and his ensemble play experimental metal instruments that crash together and strings that reach a deafening pitch.
The audience’s voyeuristic viewpoint along with the macabre live music, gives STAGE a Hitchcockian veneer. Dancers filter in and out of the space, freezing right outside of spotlights instead of in — peculiar yet arresting sculptural moments. Even the theater drapery has its own moment to shine as it’s manipulated like dancing marionettes.
Out of nowhere, STAGE turns a blind, exhilarating corner, and the trilogy comes full circle. Through a haze of smoke, the sterile office space from CAST and AUTHOR is revealed through a secret door as dancers emerge in sumptuous, mystic masks. The spectacle of STAGE draws in the audience to shed light on the magic, unpredictability, and the wonder of performance.
Castro’s trilogy smashes performative elements apart to reconfigure them so they can be considered in a new way. Though, not all parts deserve equal praise, the level of inquiry is illuminating and provocative. Castro may have intended these works to stand alone, but they’re most impactful when one views all three.