"Leaders must encourage their organizations to dance to forms of music yet to be heard." Warren Bennis
Impressions: Jen Rosenblit's "Clap Hands" Presented by American Realness at Abrons Art Center
Presented by American Realness
January 5-12, 2017
Abrons Art Center, Experimental Theatre
Creation: Jen Rosenblit
With the Performers effie bowen and Admanda Kobilka
Supportive Performance: alexia welch
Sound: Admanda Kobilka aka snoggybox
Experimental theatre conjures different expectations than traditional theatre. You expect the unexpected. Jen Rosenblit’s Clap Hands, presented during American Realness, certainly places us within this canon. There are several ways to approach this genre, but it can be advantageous to take it all in and then put the pieces together later.
Bright work lights permeate at high frequencies as the audience situates around all four sides of the pre-set scene. Admanda Kobilka sports a mustard yellow wrestling singlet and fuchsia felt boxing glove on one hand. effie bowen dons a white short-sleeved t-shirt and white fencing pants. She cradles a large stack of folded fuchsia felt pieces that hides her face. Rosenblit wears a black t-shirt and black boxing shorts. alexia welch accessorizes her all black ensemble with a fuzzy boom microphone and tan suede utility belt. The athletic attire foreshadows the promise of physical endurance. The unyielding bleacher seats occupied by the audience add to the ambiance.
Rosenblit sits in a yellow chair next to a yellow table, cluttered with a speaker, thick electrical cords that snake around one another, a pedal board, dials, a handheld microphone, and more unrecognizable equipment — a sound laboratory on display.
The first half of the work transpires with Rosenblit saying a string of words into the boom mic: actions, memories, circular, female pattern baldness, adult content, Pink Floyd. She recites her auditory incantations with an even, gentle tone. Kobilka and bowen execute a series of repetitive movements, occasionally modulating their tempo. Kobilka alternates his weight from left to right with a step, hop. bowen carefully measures out fencing poses that arrive to stillness. Are they moving in response to one another, Rosenblit’s words, or are they purposefully disconnected?
Rosenblit revolves beneath the mic. Her words morph into movement. She tickles the air while she follows the gestures beyond her fingertips. A broken plastic yellow bracelet protrudes from her mouth as she skitters from one corner to the next.
Informality materializes. The performers stumble in and out of each other’s consciousness. Rosenblit applies ChapStick twice and even asks an audience member to turn off his phone when a series of notifications ping through.
If there were a fifth performer, it would be the fuchsia fabric, which was flopped, folded, stacked, and sat. During a surprising metamorphous, bowen pulls apart edges of the bright cloth to create large abstract shapes. Are they large round petals or indefinable folds with no beginning or end? At one point, Rosenblit, bowen, and Kobilka struggle to transport this growing mass from one side of the space to the other. They catch straggling pieces with available toes, feet, and arms. A felt bag with handles, more felt pieces, and pink booties emerge from the fuchsia folds. bowen transforms into a pink blob monster as Rosenblit wiggles out from under the mass wearing only black boots.
Nudity becomes an ancillary antidote of task and function. bowen casually removes her top before being engulfed by fabric, and Rosenblit matter-of-factly resumes moving, placing, and resting on the yellow table. Rosenblit's nakedness is treated with no consequence, suggesting a state of neutrality.
The work methodically disorients one’s ability to reconcile cause and effect. Perhaps this is a slight nod to the postmodern ‘so what’ aesthetic. If you see connection great; if not, so what.
Clap Hands concludes with Rosenblit stuffing her head into the felt bag. Her world, along with the mind and contents that manifest it, retract into the container from which they emerged.