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Published on October 7, 2012

Impressions: Keith Hennessy/Circo Zero

In Turbulence (a dance about the economy)

October 4-6, 2012 at 7:30 pm at New York Live Arts, New York City

Choreography by Keith Hennessy

Created and Performed by: Laura Arrington, Ruairí Donovan, Hana Erdman, Jesse Hewit, Keith Hennessy, Jassem Hindi, Empress Jupiter, Emily Leap, Julie Phelps, Jorge Rodolfo De Hoyos, and Gabriel Todd with special guest artists AK Burns, Ishmael Houston-Jones, and Dana Michel

October 8th, 2012

End of Days Dancin'
Christine Jowers for The Dance Enthusiast

The scene: the end of the world. New York Live Arts is bombed out. A white marley lies off-kilter on the black floor. The brick walls are exposed; pipes are bare. Wire strewn akimbo. Light fixtures on the floor. A guy, Jassem Hindi, crumpled among a mass of snaky wires huddles over his computer and tinkers away– he is a ringmaster of sound for the camp. A trapeze contraption swings from the exposed grid on the ceiling. A cardboard box has exploded - half of it lies on the stage floor in front of us, the other half has been vomited onto the back wall. People (audience and cast?) are huddled behind the center stage "encampment" - one tribe, perhaps?  On our right ,another group sits and peers into the action. Then there are the rest of us, the visitors, facing the main camp from plush seats wondering,“What in the hell have we just joined?” The set up brings to mind the movie, Mad Max, and we are all that is left in the broken down world.
Someone  who introduces himself as George (Jorge Rodolfo De Hoyos) comes up to me and quietly asks if I would like to be healed. It is called faith healing and – no, I shouldn’t be nervous- I don’t have to do anything. He is nervous and that’s why he came up to me. Can I help? For a half second I wonder about the appropriateness of writing about a production while taking part in it, but George/Jorge needs me…
Keith Hennessy/Circo Zero ;Photo © Ian Douglas
Whether you opt to move in or sit on the outskirts, Turbulence and the cast of the Circo Zero tug at you- sometimes by actually pulling you into the group. Other times they visit your seat to share a story, or ask if you need earplugs (it’s loud.) Then there are the magnetic improvisations. The evening is mostly improvised and the commitment “to show it all no matter what” is full on. There is never a time that I am not absolutely absorbed by at least one of the multitude of events happening.
The cast wanders from encounter to encounter stripping away the boundaries between audience and performer. We are drawn in and out of scenarios that we are not usually exposed to in most classical style theatrical productions:people sucking at one another,  bodies slamming  together with real sexuality bordering on violence, (or is it real violence bordering on sexuality?) Two men pee through their clothes on stage. Should I be shocked? They seem so lonely.
There are moments when I am not sure if someone on “stage” is part of the cast or an audience member. From time to time several downtown dancer/choreographers stand out by joining the fray with relish. Makes me wonder how turbulent the room would feel with a more reticent crowd.
Keith Hennessy/Circo Zero ;Photo © Ian Douglas
Ishmael Houston-Jones starts up the stairs into the audience with Rodolfo De Hoyos.  They try and fail to balance on one another. It is precarious. They hit a position, collapse, and grapple the railing, their faces almost ramming into the cement stairs. When down, Jones rabidly gnaws on his partner’s ass and catches my eye. I am caught uncomfortably close, witnessing animal passion or a feeding that I shouldn’t really be seeing. They lay it bare here in Circus Zero.
Throughout the spectacular anti-spectacle  we notice several anchors: a super hot guy in underwear and shirt acts as time-keeper maintaining the beat of whatever music is playing with go- go dancing bops; a swing trapeze mostly occupied by  two spiraling, aerial women in various states of dress and undress ; and the larger-than-life Buddha-bellied black man, The Empress Jupiter - our glittering, drag spirit-guide to this collapsing world.
On the evening I attend, Jupiter wraps a few members of the audience in a striking gold cloth that is used symbolically throughout the piece as a pillow, a death shroud, a blanket, and a covering that totally conceals cast member’s faces. “It’s our gimmick,” the Empress announces to some of us with two flicks of her wrist and tiny wave to the gleaming drapery, “like in Gypsy.”  (I did mention there is humor here too, no?)
Keith Hennessy/Circo Zero ;Photo © Ian Douglas
Any chain of sense we notice is acknowledged, bodily or verbally, as flawed. The performers are flawed. We are flawed. Systems are flawed. The people creating the sensitive structure of the pyramid are doing so while blinded by golden masks; that woman kissing the other woman may look sexy but the receiver is not experiencing pleasure. it hurts, really hurts and she feels like an object. Even good institutions, ones that are supposed to make us happy and golden aren’t as perfect as they seem. Keith Hennessy’s company of independent contractor performers didn't have worker’s comp to satisfy of New York Live Arts, and the presenter freaked.  Nadir mentions that the only way he can get more grant money is by referring to himself as Palestinian instead of European or French from Libya.  Ridiculous, right?  Black and white cards are passed out (I don’t get one.) They  say something to the effect of “You lied and you got a way with it.” Our failed government, blinded by the gold of Midas, bailed out the banks. There it is in black and white.
Turbulent are the times we live in. What stands up in a storm? When things get messy, who will clean up? Who can we rely on for support?
Circo Zero’s “end of days” dance reveals that we are who we must rely on to get through it.  We are our own healers. As imperfect as we are, we are all that is left to have faith in.
Keith Hennessy/Circo Zero ;Photo © Ian Douglas
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