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IMPRESSIONS: Faye Driscoll and Dancers

IMPRESSIONS: Faye Driscoll and Dancers
Christine Jowers/Follow @cmmjowers on Instagram

By Christine Jowers/Follow @cmmjowers on Instagram
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Published on January 7, 2010

Faye Driscoll and Dancers at The University Settlement - December 19. 2009

837 Venice Boulevard and (a sneak peak of) There is so much mad in me-

December 19, 2009

Choreography: Faye Driscoll in collaboration with the performers
Performers: Michael Helland, Celia Rowlson-Hall, Nikki Zialcita, Lindsay Clark, Lilly Gold, Jennie MaryTai Liu, Tony Orrico, Jacob Slominski, Adaku Utah, Jesse Zaritt and
Set: Sarah Walsh
Costumes: Normandy Sherwood
Music: Jacno, New Order, and Phillip Glass


It was a short freaky "slice of life" and I was caught up in the atmosphere. I wanted to see how (and if) these three would grow up, or kill each other eventually.

In her trio 837 Venice Boulevard, originally created in 2008, Faye Driscoll reminds us of what it is to be an awkward adolescent experimenting with identity, sexuality, and friendship, and feeling desperately insecure when the experiments don’t pan out.

She conjures the heightened emotion and confusion of this chaotic time by sharing the verbal and physical exploits of a triangle of distinct of characters: 1. Celia, the lanky, wan, no make- up wearing, bohemian “ish” gal in odd mismatched colors; 2. Michael, the expressive-faced boy with matted- down black hair and huge eyes (like Liza, as Sally Bowles in Cabaret, because he makes them up that way); and 3. Nikki, a petite and springy, cartoon-like Asian gal with about, like, oh my god, a jillion personalities.

The evening begins in what appears to be Celia’s imagination. Our pale heroine shuffles forward and back on her feet and boxes furiously at the air while chanting, “living in New York...and doing fine...finding a hairy gross secret on my shoulder... throwing it up and finding horses, care bears and truth.” Then, impatiently, she pleads, “ I am waiting for rescue, waiting the show to begin, Hurry Up!”

A few seconds later, from behind an upstage red curtain, we hear uproarious laughter.  Enter Michael in short shorts with Nikki virtually hidden behind him -- his puppeteer. She makes him strut forward towards the audience, manipulating his every gesture. She poses him suggestively and shouts mockingly from behind him, “ I am fierce. I got a great bod!”

Finally, she thrusts her fist forward through his open legs. Her arm becomes part of his anatomy -- a huge erect penis. To be more specific, her arm becomes a huge, erect "puppet" penis with a talking head that welcomes everyone to the show, and THEN asks for a peanut butter sandwich. (I am in a bizarre teen dream and I hear raging hormones.)

I never knew a Michael, Nikki or Celia, but because they are so vividly portrayed in their surreal scenarios, I somehow feel that I grew up with them. I can taste their angst.  As Nikki manipulates Michael, I can identify with feeling pushed around by my body, emotions, and  friends. I understand their upheaval.

Much of the partnering choreography in 837... reflects the idea of being a puppet, being maneuvered and out of control. Michael’s entrance is an example. Also, later in the piece, both Michael and Nikki, grabbing on to each side of Celia’s body, orchestrate her gestures so they can argue and jab at each other through her.

There are many special moments in this work. One is when Nikki solos and reveals her multiple personalities through movement and text. Nikki is beautifully clear and facile as she bounces like an elastic super ball. She moves from being a side-splitting, martial artist with flying nun-chucks, to a juggler; from a little girl to a growing flower; from a  slutty nymphet to a samurai committing seppuku. A bit of a narcissist, she is committed to all her roles because she looks so good in them. “Who am I, and which of these crazy roles shall I wear today?,” seems to be her question. (Personally, I'm too overwhelmed by her boisterous energy to answer. Teens can do that to you.)

As Nikki takes a bow ending her “multiple” masterpiece, a door opens backstage right and Michael and Celia hobble out on to the main floor falling over each other as if they have been smoking pot in another room. Set designer Sarah Walsh has created “almost” hidden enclaves that resemble a bathroom or bedroom and kitchen -- intriguing. We can see some details of these  rooms, but not very well. This design gives the main floor of the University Settlement the feeling of being part of a large family home.

There is fun child play, such as when the trio runs behind the upstage curtains, hiding their bodies away from us, and only letting us see their faces. We laugh as their heads, in the separations of the fabric, float up and down like disconnected yo-yos. They emerge from the curtain as super-heroes with capes streaming off their backs. Triumph.

There are the awful beginnings of adult play when insensitivity and cruelty come to fore (the kind of insensitivity that zeros in on the most fragile aspect of a friends’ personality and exploits it.) At one point skinny Celia, relentless, taunts her friends. She yells at Michael to wash off his mascara and “grow the fuck up." She calls Nikki a cockroach because of her Philippine immigrant background.

I was disappointed that the piece had to end. It was a short freaky “slice of life” and I was caught up in the atmosphere. I wanted to see how (and if) these three would grow up, or kill each other eventually. I wonder how Celia, Michael, and Nikki will be at thirty, forty, fifty? Interesting enough to choreograph? I am waiting for a dance piece about middle and old age angst and chaos.

Driscoll's newest work, There is so much mad in me (great title) will appear in full at Dance Theater Workshop from March 31st to April 3rd. On December 19th what I saw were wonderfully diverse, attractive, and present performers. Driscoll is blessed to work with talented people and vice -versa. There were plenty of emotional shifts, people climbing up walls, and onto each other, and a Tyra Banks Talk Show “talk out” that became a wild dance party. Filled with energy and sound, and not much space to rest in between, I am excited to see what will come of it all in the spring.

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