IMPRESSIONS: Angela Goh's "Desert Body Creep" as part of COIL Festival at Performance Space New York
January 15, 2018
Choreography and Performance: Angela Goh
Sound Operation: Matt Cornell
Despite the close quarters of Performance Space New York's black box theater, the audience could easily be watching Angela Goh's bizarre Desert Body Creep from a distance. Elements are familiar — her human body, pieces of cloth, a piano, a horrifyingly gigantic gummy-candy millipede — yet their proximity doesn't make them or their uses any more clear. Instead, Goh and her decontextualized set are more like an alien's performance of human actions.
Goh begins onstage, fully lit. As the audience settles, her linear movements pick up steam and, though she continues to face front, her torso seems to twist and wind around itself. The lights fade, making the walls and floor of the theater appear to recede, giving the impression that dark water is closing over Goh's head as she sinks into an abyss. A smoke machine fills the room with wispy clouds, which hang perfectly still. Eerie, saturated green light reflects off of the smoke, reinforcing the feeling of gazing into a deep pool and seeing a creature that's not normally illuminated. An immense, imaginative distance has opened between the bleacher seating and the stage, priming the audience for the dream-logic non-sequiturs that follow.
Goh uses a thin blue pole to manipulate the candy millipede; she loops recorded vocal intonations until they morph into harsh screams; and she dives at cloth squares on the floor and scrunches them up as she pushes herself forward, mouth first. These tasks are so enigmatic that it's hard to determine their purpose. However, Goh has created a convincingly suspended world, and it seems, on her planet, a person might spend time gently nudging a two-foot-long candy bug with a stick.
Eventually, Goh slithers into a fabric tube and uses the opening as a mouth to “eat” the remaining pieces of cloth, pulling each one inside the tube with her. When she finally emerges, nude, it feels both surprising and inevitable. She undertakes a few more tasks: playing the piano and using a vacuum cleaner to shrink-wrap the fabric tube in a plastic bag. The prop that turned her into a voracious worm has been disposed of, her interest seemingly exhausted.
In a final, defiant gesture, Goh steps onto a vibration plate machine — one of those pseudo-scientific home “workout” systems that purport to shake your muscles and help you lose weight. With her back to the audience, Goh slowly ramps up the level of vibration. The result is an absurd and vulnerable view of her backside as skin slides over muscle and muscle quakes over bone. In a performance that contains little movement, yet is billed as dance, this closing image is the most kinetic by far.
Performance Space New York's Coil Festival can be counted upon to deliver highly conceptual, often intriguing work by artists who have had the creative luxuries of time, funding, and production and design support. It would have been gratifying, then, to see Desert Body Creep move beyond its conceptual framework. Its cut-and-paste sequencing and the symbolism of the props impart little meaning, but perhaps there isn't any, beyond what an individual might project based on their own experiences. It feels like Goh's choreography outlines the ground rules for something that never actually happens.