Impressions: luciana achugar's "BRUXJ" as Part of the On Your Marx Festival

Impressions: luciana achugar's "BRUXJ" as Part of the On Your Marx Festival
Henning Rübsam

By Henning Rübsam
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Published on November 5, 2018
Photo: Ian Douglas

Created by luciana achugar, Nikima Jagudajev, Molly Lieber, and Sarah White-Ayón with Oren Barnoy and Efraín Rozas

Music, programming, and robotics by Efraín Rozas

Lighting by Madeline Best

Friday, October 197:30pm as part of the “On Your Marx Festival” (Oct. 17 – 28)

The choreographer luciana achugar addresses the audience in the lobby of the theater: “I will take you on the stage, and then you can decide if you want to stay there or sit in the seats.” The crowd follows her through a corridor and we find ourselves on stage looking out at the vast auditorium of the NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts. I tell my companion, “I had a long day. Let’s sit.” I am grateful I get to choose how to watch Bruxj, a piece that achugar and her dancers have created for the “On Your Marx Festival".

We pass a person on their knees rocking back and forth, and we decide on seats in the fourth row. I am looking at three butts in cut-out black panties near the front edge of the stage. Blue jeans placed on the floor form an outline beneath the dancers’ bodies and protect their knees. When they rock back I see sleeveless denim tops and see that these bodies belong to women. ”

Two dancers hang over the legs and stand on their jeans
luciana achuar's BRUXJ premiered at NYU Skirball, October 19, 2018; Photo Credit: Ian Douglas

Meanwhile the audience on stage has formed a crescent around the performers while the other spectators are sprinkled throughout the lower section of the auditorium. The performers slide across the stage heads down and with hands on the jeans, while audience members move out of their way. Now the performers are in back of the space; but after a while they slide to their original places, once again “assuming the position.”

Placed just slightly up of center stage, a percussion apparatus stands hidden behind the on-stage audience. Is it programmed and unmanned? The somewhat monotonous beat would suggest it.

Two performers get up and move through the aisles behind the audience in the auditorium, while a third one remains in the center spot on stage. Since other spectators often come between me and the performers, I decide to look at my fellow audience members, who are also watching one another. Humans of all shapes and sizes. How marvelous it feels to be part of this weird downtown happening.  

A woman presses her hands against a black cinderblock wall. She wears black underwear and a denim vest.
MOLLY LIEBER in luciana achuar's BRUXJ premiered at NYU Skirball, October 19, 2018; Photo: Ian Douglas

Now the two women in the rear of the auditorium climb over the seats to get back on stage rejoining the performer who was left behind. Their rocking changes to a repetitive up-and-down motion. Bend knees, straighten legs. Heads and torsos face down. They start to slide again. They disappear from my view. I see one of them drinking water. I glimpse another repeating the previous motion; and I hear them breathing heavily. They return to their spots. They sit back on their heels and, instead of rocking back and forth or bending and straightening, they open and close their knees. So the choreography varies menial motions. Does this image suggest the untrained workforce in the industrial age? This performance is part of a Karl Marx festival, after all. I will look for more clues. They are women. And Bruxj is close enough to bruja or bruxa, which mean witch. Hmm. I’ll keep watching.

The bodies turn face up now. The women place their feet on the jeans; and they curl up in a crouch and unfold to a table position. Repeatedly. The monotonous percussion continues. The performers slide through the onstage audience again and reach the back wall. They lie face down and bend their knees. When straightening their legs their feet slam the ground adding percussive sounds. I notice that their denim tops must have come off at a moment when audience members obstructed my view.

I do not mind, because watching humans watching performers is a performance in itself and enlivens the proceedings. I begin to understand the monotony of labor and the notion that it is my job to stay and watch it. Should I get up now and follow the trail of sweat? No, I decide to approach my work as if I did not have the freedom to walk around; and I stay put in my place like a factory worker. Of course, I have the advantage of choosing what I look at. The performance does not quite add up, but I manage to enjoy myself despite the overlong stretches of repetitive, simplistic moves.

Three women crouch with their hands and feet on the ground while their haunches face out to the auditorium.
L-R: Sarah White-Ayón, Molly Lieber and luciana achugar in BRUXJ premiered at NYU Skirball, October 19, 2018; Photo: Ian Douglas

After a while, the women stand up and place their hands against the back wall arching their backs and sticking their butts out in a percussive rhythm. The programmed percussion sounds slow down and then become a bit more intricate. Something close to a scale emerges and eventually syncopates. The women repeat the table-crouch movement. Bras come off. Oh, one bra stays on. Now the dancers move around the space and dance in between the spectators as if they are in a club after hours. They shimmy, but their exhaustion does not allow for virtuosity. One performer picks up a little girl and dances with her. Achugar takes her jeans and beats one of the golden columns framing the space.

Why does no one scream “Revolution NOW”? A few audience members clap rhythmically and some even join in the dancing. It’s quite the commune feeling. The dancers end among cheers and applause. I will need to read a program note for it all to make sense, but – after over two long hours - some magic happened here. 

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