IMPRESSIONS: Brendan Drake’s “This Is Desire” at Brooklyn Studios for Dance
March 24, 2018
Direction and creation: Brendan Drake
Choreography and performance: Quentin Burley, Jordan Demetrius Lloyd, Brendan Drake, Leah Moriarty, Shannon Nash, and Anthony Shevlin Gonzales
Music: Beyonce, Peaches, Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein II, Mind over Mirrors, and Phillip Glass.
Sound Editing: Brendan Drake
Text: Original text by the performers with additional text from Patti Smith, Lucinda Williams, and Edith Wharton.
Entering Brooklyn Studios for Dance last Saturday night, I first thought I was walking into a séance or a new moon ceremony. The cavernous white space was awash with softly glowing Christmas lights and gold-flecked rose petals sprinkled on the floor. But the serenity was brief. Brendan Drake and his ensemble soon tore through the space like a voracious pack of hyenas.
This Is Desire is a self-referential glimpse into what we long and strive for through the lens of a Queer romance. Linchpinned by a loose storyline of two young men who fall in love and a secret that almost ruins everything, the work flies into moments of hyperphysical dancing, irreverent confessionals, and raining Barbie dolls.
As in his previous work, Drake interrogates the intersection of everyday life and theater. To him, these worlds aren’t far apart; in fact, they’re one and the same. Like 2016’s The Big Finish, This is Desire includes droll dialogue by a band of ragtag performers who are called by their real names within the work. Watching a version of these people, incongruent in appearance, is half of the fun. Shannon Nash, for example, with her equine limbs and go-for-broke attitude bolsters Quentin Burley, bearded and compact, who’s the lovable yet sheepish sidekick.
In the opening scene, Nash and Anthony Shevlin Gonzales check out Jordan Demetrius Lloyd at a dance club. Moments into the scene, Drake bursts through the closet doors, bellowing “cut!” and then gives his fellow performers notes. “Shannon, can you deliver your lines with more enthusiasm?" This entrance sets the work on a trajectory that toggles between meta and abstract, real life and absurdism.
I suspect Drake was a culture vulture growing up. The piece feels at once contemporary and of the ‘80s and ‘90s. The stylings of Madonna, Prince, John Waters, and Peaches butt up against Beyoncé, electronic music, and hashtag references. This mash-up of influences and eras is best encapsulated in a section I’ll call Catholic processional gone awry. Drake begins a deadpan monologue with, “A reading . . .” followed by excerpts of the Bruce Springsteen and Patti Smith song "Because the Night."
With love we sleep
With doubt the vicious circle turns and burns
Without you I cannot live
Please forgive the yearning
I believe it’s time
So touch me now
The group then traverses the long panels of the studio (the space used to be a gymnasium) like they’re on a parade float. Nash and Shevlin Gonzales sashay down the aisle clinking chalices of wine. Their arms intertwine as they take a swig. Drake, wearing “Risky Business” sunglasses and a hot pink boa, devilishly waves lit sage. Wrists flick, hips swivel, and bodies drop to floor, reminiscent of voguing.
This is Desire is dense, raw, and a little rough around the edges. At times, it feels like the space itself is about to burst from the cast’s raucous energy. Yet it’s this very fearlessness to ride the work’s edge that makes it engrossing and real. This is Desire dives deep into ferverish want and the feelings of discomfort that can come with it. But Drake and his ensemble, through their bold dancing and acting, challenge us to abandon shame in order to embrace our whole selves and figure out what it is we really want. What we really, really want.
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