Editor’s note: Created by performance makers Alysia Savoy and Bonnie Gabel, LIFT functions as a means of generating and expanding constructive dialogues about theatrical performance in New Orleans, — exploring the idealogical symbiotic relationship between performance and reality. Instead of approaching local productions through the lens of a summary or review, so to speak, LIFT’s writings are critical — they ask hard, yet necessary questions about theater’s mimetic nature and subsequently, what a particular production reveals to us about our own society and culture.
To keep LIFT’s dialogue dynamic, Savoy and Gabel enlist in a rotating selection of local performers to generate critical responses to New Orleans productions. And for the sake of analytical variety, two different local performers respond to each selected production. Both performers separately attend a pre-production rehearsal as a spectator and speak with the lead artist to acquire an understanding of the show’s theoretical intention and the process through which the production materializes. After watching the final product, the rotating artists then produce a thoughtful response about their experience watching the performance, with process and intention in mind.
This installment of LIFT is focused on “The Agency,” a contemporary dance production from Narcisse Movement Project and choreographed by Maritza Mercado-Narcisse. Below is an excerpt from New Orleans-based theatre maker Jennifer Sargent’s response to “The Agency” for LIFT:
With nothing can one approach a work of art so little as with critical words… Things are not all so comprehensible and expressible as one would mostly have us believe; most events are inexpressible, taking place in a realm which no word has ever entered, and more inexpressible than all else are works of art. – Rainer Maria Rilke
In the moments before the performance of “The Agency” began at Dancing Grounds last February, Maritza was composing a tranquil arrangement of little wooden kindergarten chairs, scattered like flotsam across the studio floor. She tiptoed around the space in a tuxedo shirt and topcoat, and pink, cotton underwear.
For me, these little chairs ushered in a wordless realm of sadness: the laughter of hundreds of children who live in a neighborhood just north of Yankee Stadium. I worked in Kindergarten after-school classrooms in the Bronx before I moved to New Orleans, and for six years I sat in those same chairs: institutional but friendly, sturdy light oak. The fresh context at Dancing Grounds brought back a vanished, magical world. Countless games. Poison forest trees made of small oak chairs. Dog catcher trucks made of small oak chairs. The hot tub in the back of our space ship, a naked mole rat fashion show runway – lined with small oak chairs.
Loss and absence hung in the room as the other performers joined Maritza on the floor. The dancers wore men’s coats, shirts and neckties, all a bit too big. Like children playing dress up? Each dancer thumped out an awkward, prone or sideways or sprawling, clutching duet with one of the small chairs. With splayed or butterflied legs, butts in the air here and there, I saw the messy wholeness of childhood. When flashing our pink cotton underpants wasn’t vulgar or embarrassing. I thought of the birthright we all have to own our bodies as one space, one whole.
Before we learned boy and girl. Before shirt and necktie and little red dress were anything but games.
The little red dresses appeared midway through the piece. Each dress was different, many fit awkwardly on the women, only the male dancer looked somehow elegant. This was the costume of feminine sexiness – an idea I learned as a child. An idea, as an adult, I revolt against, though sometimes I secretly envy the womanly women who pull it off.
The dancers pulled up chairs to the audience and conducted friendly interviews: Where are you from? California. How old were you when you learned to ride a bike? Maybe 8. Who taught you? Her name was Mary Jean. What color was your bike?
Pink, I said… but loss flooded back, and painful images. There was a sunny sidewalk in Berkeley, California. Vague shapes of playing children – my childhood friends. Mary Jean pushing my bike, running behind me. There was the intensive care unit at Alta Bates Hospital and the silent waiting room and Mary Jean’s brothers who had driven down from Vancouver overnight. Her name was Mary Jean, she was my mom’s best friend, she was a surrogate mother to me, and she died of breast cancer when she was 65.
The rest of Maritza’s piece washed over me, tenderly. I was inside of it and far outside. I saw a beautiful duet between Maritza and Curtis, and it looked like growing; it looked like healing. Nina Simone’s sang “Ne me Quitte pas,” a song of heartbreak. A powerful woman begs helplessly for her beloved not to leave her. I was absorbed in my own wordless realm, watching Curtis circling around an audience member seated in the center of the stage, I was absorbed in the ends of things and times. Losing people you loved through death or distance, people who loved you and helped you grow. The small deaths inside of us as time moves on.
Read Sargent’s response in its entirety here.
“The Agency” was first performed at Dancing Grounds in November of 2014 during Narcisse Movement Project’s creative residency. It is created entirely in collaboration with the performers. The work was remounted in February of 2015 and will be performed again June 8, 2015 at Dancing Grounds (3705 St. Claude), followed by a facilitated conversation with LIFT. Each performance and conversation are free and open to the public.