IMPRESSIONS OF: "In Celebration of Wheatgrass"
A collaboration between The Equus Projects and Stewart Borowsky “The Wheatgrass Man"
Union Square, Manhattan
October 11, 2015
Co-directors: JoAnna Mendl Shaw and Audrey Rachelle Stanley, with choreography developed in collaboration with the dancers
Dancers: Iman Ayana, Alex Jenkins and Audrey Rachelle Stanley
Music by: Martha Cargo
It's rare to find a still moment within the chaos of Union Square, but on Sunday, October 11, In Celebration of Wheatgrass created a strange eye in the storm of one of NYC's busiest crossroads.
The performance, envisioned by The Equus Projects' director JoAnna Mendl Shaw and wheatgrass vendor Stewart Borowsky, grew from a score developed by the dancers and was performed by dancers Audrey Rachelle Stanley, Iman Ayana and Alex Jenkins. They were joined by Martha Cargo's live flute accompaniment.
A few minutes prior to the performance, Mendl Shaw and the dancers dealt with the inevitable flux that comes from site-specific work: Speaking to nearby musicians and negotiating for quiet, reimagining pathways that had been interrupted by a chalk drawing, making last minute checks on the plastic pots, pallets and containers of wheatgrass that constituted set design. Passersby stooped to read pieces of paper taped to the ground next to the wheatgrass—brief programs that served as the performance's only explanation.
After a moment of heightened expectation—the dancers and musician looked at one another, family and friends eagerly crowded closer and pedestrians paused—Ayana, Jenkins and Stanley stripped off their jumpsuits and neatly laid them out across the performance area. Dressed in nude mesh tops and nude shorts, they began a series of walking patterns and improvisations, interacting with the pallets, pots and a watering can. Their momentum built, culminating in Stanley tearing and stomping on a pallet of wheatgrass. After she subsided, she looked out at the audience as if seeking their understanding for what had just happened.
Part of the joy of site-specific performance is in witnessing the mutability of an audience's attention, watching people become interested and then disinterested, and watching them give in to their own curiosity. As pedestrians unwittingly walked onto the “stage,” realized what was happening, panicked and then relaxed, their body language provided a dreamy contrast to the stylization of the performers. Audience members got to see wordless worlds collide.
The only major drawback to the site-specific nature of Wheatgrass was the presence of volunteer photographers, denoted by their red beanies. Though it initially seemed like they would blend in with the dancers, since they walked with purpose and intention, they were ultimately distracting and felt more like paparazzi than an integrated element of the performance.
Eventually the dancers put their jumpsuits back on, making their presence much more definitive. Ayana meditatively continued her performance without notice by some of the audience members—literally behind their backs as they watched something else—creating entertaining visual tension for those who could see the whole picture. Jenkins lay down next to a pot of wheatgrass and gently stroked the blades with a gesture that was both sensual and utilitarian.
The performance ended as the dancers moved the wheatgrass to create patterns and eventually built a pathway out of their props. They dissolved into the crowd having built an intriguing experimental world but leaving, unfortunately, their fundamental relationship with the wheatgrass itself only partially probed.