Sunday, November 26, 2017

Croats and Poles, Poking Holes

Perforations Festival
La Mama Experimental Theatre, New York
November 25, 2017

-- By Tom Phillips
"Suddenly Everywhere"
In these woeful times for American culture, one looks with hope for something new from somewhere else. Enter the Perforations Festival, curated by Croatian director Zvonomir Dobrovic, just in time to give us a refreshing new look at Croatia and Eastern Europe, and a devastating look at ourselves.

After centuries of war and foreign rule, little Croatia is in the throes of development as an independent nation. A member of the European Union just since 2013, it's now courting western visitors and trying to mount a cultural renaissance, even as it struggles with a resurgent right-wing nationalist movement.  All this seemed to be hanging in the balance in Bruno Isakovic and Mia Zalukar's "Suddenly Everywhere," an exquisitely etched pas de deux that looks like a contact improvisation -- but also a cultural moment, fraught with history, possibility and peril.  Two young people begin dancing playfully, flirting with intimacy, which then turns into manipulation, aggression, panic, violence, then renewed fascination. It seems to break off;  the man leaves the stage and a drunken older couple is heard bickering on the sound track, their anger serving as an aphrodisiac. The lights go down and the young woman is left alone in a twilight state -- titles flash on the wall behind her, binary choices of risk and comfort, adventure and safety, desire and doubt.  Which way will it go?  Isakovic re-enters by another way and the opening dance begins again, but with care and pleasure in the partnering this time -- and as the music picks up speed, hope and a glimpse of joy.  These are supplied largely by the irresistible Zalukar, who combines the grace of a dancer, the steel of a fighter, and the charm of a cheerleader -- in this case, one with a cause worth cheering for.

"Make Yourself"
Americans have little to cheer for these days, unless you're a fan of toxic tax bills and travel bans.  We've even lost the ability to laugh at our own culture -- so consumed are we with striving after fitness, health, glamour, wealth, and other marks of personal perfection. Enter then a wicked troupe of Polish satirists -- meet High Speed, Lordi, Coco, Glow, and Beauty, with choreographer Marta Ziolek, AKA Angel Dust, serving as hostess and narrator of "Make Yourself."  They show us in disgusting detail just what a mockery we have made of the Good Things of Life -- turning dance into fitness, singing into air-biting, religion into self-help, learning into programming, sex into hotness, seduction into subjugation, success into speed, etc. etc. etc.  The Poles were also making fun of their own embrace of free-market slavery, so the tone was one of friendly mockery -- just what we need from an older, wiser ally.

The middle piece on Saturday night's triple bill looked like a cultural disconnect between this European festival and its US hosts.  Croatian dancer Ina Sladic walked onstage and followed directions she'd never heard before -- made up and recorded by American performance artist Penny Arcade, who reinforced them from a seat in the audience. She seemed baffled by the New Yorker's demands for on-the-spot deep introspection, and couldn't come up with much.  Maybe it'll go better today, when the audience is invited to make up the instructions.  "Penny/Audience" will conclude the Perforations Festival at La Mama, unfortunately scheduled for Thanksgiving week when most of the audience is out to eat.  Please come back, you Croats and Poles, and poke more holes in us!

-- Copyright 2017 by Tom Phillips
Photo of "Suddenly Everywhere" by Zeljko Tutnjevic
Photo of "Make Yourself" by Bartosz Stawiarski

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