IMPRESSIONS: “Magnum Opus” at Brooklyn Studios for Dance as part of “Oh, Celine”

IMPRESSIONS: “Magnum Opus” at Brooklyn Studios for Dance as part of “Oh, Celine”

Published on April 22, 2019
Photo by Chelsea Robin Lee

April 11, 2019

Production: The People Movers

Concept, Story & Creative Direction: Kate Ladenheim & Cecilia Lynn-Jacobs

Choreography & Movement Direction: Kate Ladenheim

Dramaturgy, Performance, Costume Design, Blog Writing: Cecilia Lynn-Jacobs

The advice for young artists is clear: stay true to yourself, your work, and your unique vision that will, needless to say, change the world. Yet, when confronted with a society that demands professionalism and punctuality, these imperatives seem naïve and entitled. 

This push and pull between artistry and capitalism is the heart of Oh, Celine. Debuting in 2018, it is an ongoing multimedia performance by Kate Ladenheim and Cecilia Lynn-Jacobs. With sharp comedic timing, Lynn-Jacobs embodies Celine, an avatar of self-indulgence and woo woo wonderment. She is a caricature to be sure, yet she reads as real, the spirit sister of Gwenyth Paltrow, Amanda Chantal Bacon, and Caroline Calloway. Although none of them have tried their hand at downtown dance, their path might parallel Celine’s. 

A woman looks over her shoulder
Magnum Opus at Brooklyn Studios for Dance as part of Oh, Celine; Photo by Chelsea Robin Lee

Using social media as her canvas, Celine documents the ups and downs of trying to make it. She employs prose that lands somewhere between International Art English and new-age speak. An example from her artist’s statement asserts, “Humans Occupy Space, in flux, becoming, entering and exiting, filling and emptying. I examine our corporeal matter as a series of patterns and movements, altered by our higher consciousness.”

Garnering likes and more likes, Celine touts her triumphs such as when casts her as the spokesperson for Jü Fine Brandy (Jü is pronounced like you). She details her failures, which are legion: a firing by and an aborted show at Joe’s Pub. Through the gush of florid text and filtered pictures, her cluelessness stands out.

Celine’s forty-five minute Magnum Opus: A Retrospective is the autograph on her well-documented quest for artistic stardom, the i of her name literally and figuratively dotted with an asterisk. At Brooklyn Studios for Dance housed in Cadman Congregational Church, black-and-white photos and posts from her Instagram and Tumblr plaster the two long walls of the hall of worship. A tangle of silk roses and twinkle lights decorate the back while the stage displays a museum-like array of curios. These include a leopard-print chair, candles, a fluffy tutu, and a prominent, swirly-printed sign of Celine’s Tumblr handle because a 21st-century artist never forgets what’s important — gaining followers.   

A woman extends her limbs in shadows on a balcony
Magnum Opus at Brooklyn Studios for Dance as part of Oh, Celine; Photo by Chelsea Robin Lee

Before Celine officially begins her self-described masterpiece, the audience explores the space. We’re still in coats and carrying bags since the chairs are in a clump, overturned. Per her instructions, we right the seats and settle in a circle where we watch her read a personal introduction and flit around like a rabid, self-absorbed butterfly. One caveat accompanies Magnum Opus. To enjoy the joke, you must be in on the joke. 

With a swathe of tulle worn like a Miss America sash, flowers strewn through her hair, Celine dances like Isadora Duncan after too many chai lattes. She runs, she gesticulates, and she pours out her heart with melodramatic flair. Like the savvy Millennial that she is, Celine performs with an awareness of the gaze. That could be ours or it could be the camera’s as she does in the seven-minute film of the disastrous Ju Fine Brandy shoot. She thrives on attention, and in a world where Instagram influencer is an actual job, failures can be rebranded as opportunities to promote one’s authenticity. 

A woman poses among silk roses and twinkle lights
Magnum Opus at Brooklyn Studios for Dance as part of Oh, Celine; Photo by Chelsea Robin Lee

Toward the end, Celine confesses her disappointments. She mimes brushing herself off, and while balanced on her knees, she falls face forward — again and then again. There she lies, her crumpled body a symbol of broken dreams and misplaced ambitions. But positivity is second only to authenticity for an artist wannabe, so Celine leaps up and curtsies like a prima ballerina.

It’s not goodbye though. She returns for a feedback session, which is mostly a ploy for us to feed her insatiable ego. This ending, along with the many hilarious moments that populate Magnum Opus, reveals the uneasy relationship between art maker and art consumer. The artist works from the perspective that we, the audience, enter the theater riddled with holes from the existential damage of life. Naturally, only the artist and their extraordinary vision can fill those holes. 

While this isn’t quite true across the board, Celine proves that satirizing it makes for fine art indeed.

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