The lobby of Durham’s Reynolds Industries Theater looked sparse during the ten minutes prior to Faye Driscoll’s evening-length work, You’re Me. But the absence didn’t indicate a small crowd. Ushers urged audience members lollygagging in the lobby to find their seats quickly, so as not to miss what they referred to as “The Melting Section”.
Adorned with bright, cascading fabric stuffed with loose wigs, fruit and jewelry of all sorts, Driscoll and dancer Jesse Zarritt stood high atop pedestals like Greco-Roman statues. As the dancers’ accoutrements slowly fell away from their bodies, they appeared to be melting – more like candles than like the Wicked Witch of the West. Like attentive altar boys, two stagehands periodically knelt at the dancers’ feet to collect discarded garments, and then stoically carried them away on serving platters.
In the soundtrack-less section that followed, Driscoll blended facial animation, rich vocalizations and intricate choreography to bring images to life onstage. As, animalistic, Biblical and sexual imagery blended, Driscoll emerged as the dominant onstage personality. Zarritt was at times Driscoll’s hissing pet and at other times her romantically subpar boyfriend; he was noticeably always onstage to support the shifting fantasy that Driscoll was living. A pas de deux section here seemed out of place* but spoke to the work’s overall examination of the projected ideal self (in these moments, Driscoll alluded to the expectations that audiences often have for onstage performers). Despite the seemingly disjunctive nature of this balletic choreography, it spoke to the technical prowess of both performers.
*The aforementioned pas de deux was also one of the work’s few moments that possessed archetypically feminine energy, which was an element of note. Maternal images like a mother bird (Driscoll) feeding a baby chick (Zarritt) and a mother giving birth were seen later in the work, but both had distinctly strong, abrasive energies.
In an ongoing examination of self vs. self, Driscoll and Zarritt continuously altered their physical appearances using props like spray paint, wigs and strategically-placed oranges, each of which triggered behavioral change. During the work’s third section, “not…not”, dancers sprayed paint on the most vulnerable parts of their bodies, re-routing the pain to fuel strength as their inner arms, throats and groins met freezing streams of paint. This visually and emotionally striking section examined the willingness of members of modern society to self-modify to fit Western social constructs – specifically those related to beauty and gender.
The performers also examined the identities people project onto their loved ones through a sometimes humorous intimacy training session. In the work’s second section, “If you pretend you are drowning, I will pretend I am saving you,” Driscoll coached Zarritt in an effort to correct his hugging and kissing techniques. Body language suggested that Zarritt was unenthused.
Taking their onstage relationship one step further, the dancers explored sexuality through erotic behaviors that were, for the most part, disassociated from any mimed sexual acts. In one memorable image, Zarritt thrusted his hips, pounded his thighs, beat his chest and grunted in one corner while Driscoll played the disenchanted recipient of his hyper-masculine and sexual energy. Driscoll’s emotionally lackadaisical solos during these moments made a joke of Zarritt’s machismo, further enhancing her onstage dominance.
The climax of Driscoll’s identity crisis came during a section titled, “Gnosis Kardias, Kardias Gnosis”, a Greek phrase that means “knowledge of the heart”. During this segment, Driscoll stood atop a white bedside table that was attached to two long pieces of white elastic tape. As driving, bass-heavy music by Chris Giarmo pounded through the speakers, Zarritt dug through the costume trunk-like contents of the table, passing Driscoll a seemingly endless supply of props. Driscoll, with facial animation to rival Jim Carrey, incorporated new props as fast as she tossed them away, assuming a new character with each acquisition. The props, coordinated by Emily Roysdon, further littered an already destroyed stage, creating a final tableau of utter physical chaos.
And emotional chaos wasn’t far away. During the work’s denouement, Driscoll and Zarritt grappled while tangled up in a long, white sheet of paper, creating a sexual assault-like auditory experience that proved difficult to endure. Though the performers recovered from these final physical blows, they left this audience member with lasting unease. And in this particular instance, that indicated a performance well done.
A major takeaway about choreographic work that incorporates extreme performance elements and subject matter is that the dancers must be committed to fully living out the artistic director’s vision. Every moment in this conceptually, emotionally and choreographically dense work was carefully considered by Driscoll during her creative process; she then engineered this abundance of images and life situations into a brilliant exploration of how to define one’s self-identity in a world of excess. Had she and Zarritt – who have performed the work on-and-off for the past two years – allowed themselves to get bored with the subject matter, You’re Me could have easily sent a less powerful message to the audience. It is a testament to the talent of these seasoned performers that they know exactly how to meter their energy and enthusiasm onstage to prevent overacting or uninspired performance quality.
Though this work might be difficult to digest for new modern dance viewers, I highly recommend it to art enthusiasts everywhere. Because the test of what’s “good” or “bad” in art is not necessarily what a person likes or dislikes; rather, it is whether or not you find yourself thinking about a piece of art after you walk away from it. And trust me when I say that You’re Me will stick with you for a long time.
Have you seen this work or others by Faye Driscoll? Leave me a comment and let me know your thoughts!
Faye Driscoll – You’re Me
Reynolds Industries Theatre, Monday, June 24, 2013, 8 PM
Choreography and Direction: Faye Driscoll
Performance and Material Generation: Faye Driscoll and Jesse Zarritt
Dramaturgy: Nina Mankin
Costume and Prop Consultant: Emily Roysdon
Sound Design and Original Music: Chris Giarmo
Original Music Engineered by Yair Evnine
Presented by: The American Dance Festival