The Performant: In the Flash

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Bodies and words collide in 'this.placed'

It’s easy to overlook them, two dancers, still as mannequins, positioned near the entrance to the performance space, a silent video of a wet fleshy mouth, open wide as if ready for a filling, projected onto their motionless bodies. Just before the lights go down, they disappear, as does the fleshy mouth. Onstage a much larger projection of mouth, nose, cheek, fills the back wall, as the sounds of kissing, mumbling, chewing, and lip popping create a fanfare for the two dancers (Jill Randall and Amanda Whitehead), who enter while stretching their own faces into humorously exaggerated positions. Finally, Whitehead opens her mouth normally, to recite the jumbled text of Britta Austin’s Flash Fiction “Bite Marks,” which substitutes for music in their energetic duet.

“Her mouth was broken, there was a broken insistence to it….the insistence in her broken mouth was in her tongue, constantly poking out… to taste: citric acid honey pencil shavings the pages of her books the undersides of her fingernails…”

Choreographed by Nina Haft, five Flash Fiction-driven dances premiered last weekend at ODC in a collaborative venture with Sue Li Jue, who directed four additional pieces. (Read Guardian dance critic Rita Felciano's take on the performances here.) Haft has choreographed work from Austin’s quirkily unsettling short-shorts before. In 2008, Austin’s publisher Watchword with Intersection for the Arts presented a radical interpretation of her works, in a multi-faceted showcase which included visual, theatre, and dance artists entitled “Notecards, a Living Museum”. In this.placed simultaneously earthy and beguiling lines such as “what can be written that doesn’t carry the stench of concepts digested before?” and “in a world where we are trained to be embarrassed by other peoples’ sex lives…I am faulty,” propel each action on a stage almost too wide to closely embrace the painful intimacy of the language.

Like dance, the art of Flash Fiction can be described as a series of fleeting yet powerful moments, caught as if in a headlight or camera-shutter, a brief transcendence. In “Flesh, Taste, Friction,” a mesmerizing Frances Sedayao stands in the foreground in a shaft of light with the appearance of a half-open window blind, while fellow dancers Rebecca Johnson and Edmer Lazaro, each in their own shaft of light, imitate the postures of her unsuspecting neighbors. “What She Asked,” an intense duet between Lisa Bush and Carol Kueffer veers into territories of suffocation and uncontrolled rage as Kueffer, breaking free from Bush’s persistent, over-bearing embrace, angrily demands that her body be “inside the room, my head outside the room, and the door shut…” before shuddering in a fit of whole-body emotion.

Sue Li Ju’s four pieces, each based on a particular degree of body awareness or circumstance, provide a balanced counterpoint to Haft’s snapshots of the vagaries of the human mind. “Half the Sky,” focuses on identity from the pov of adopted Chinese children while “Not What She Seams,” explores the conditions of textile factory workers, and includes some particularly colorful sequences involving billowing waves of fabric mirroring the movements of the dancers, adding startled beauty to the grimness of their toil. A flash of bright fiction requiring no words.  

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