“fantasia upon the moment when the woman invisible to herself and the man who isn’t sure whether he wants to exist yet or not decide to go in on an apartment together”
Z Space, San Francisco
September 13th, 2014
Post-modern choreography has always sought to take risks, avoid stagnation and challenge the status quo. Fifty years post-Judson, twenty-first century post-modern choreographers still continue this forward propulsion, seeking new understandings of dance, choreography and theatricality. But they are going about it in a different way, and they are onto something big. Many of post-modernism’s primary tenets remain – egalitarianism, non-conformity and blurring the lines between life and art – but there is a renewed sense of direction. Conventional dance performance models can work within this ethos. Attention to content and meaning does not take away from the attention to form and structure. Story is valid and good. This isn’t a new stylistic hybrid; it is not post-modernism-lite. This is post-modern dance for the twenty-first century.
“fantasia upon the moment when the woman invisible to herself and the man who isn’t sure whether he wants to exist yet or not decide to go in on an apartment together”, Mary Armentrout Dance Theater’s newest performance installation, is a great example of twenty-first century post-modernism. Through video, text phrases, dance, props and scenework, Armentrout has crafted a piece that is avant-garde, thinks outside the box, and blurs the space between life and art while still being relatable. And the narrative is perhaps the work’s most important feature. “fantasia upon the moment when the woman invisible to herself and the man who isn’t sure whether he wants to exist yet or not decide to go in on an apartment together” is about love and relationships, about their permanence and transience, and the search for understanding in the context of that partnership.
Keeping to true fantasia form, Armentrout opted for a unique structural format – a prologue followed by four chapters. The prologue unfolded in Z Space’s lobby while the crowd milled about prior to the performance. Cozy arrangements of couches, tables, and chairs were scattered around the large industrial space (an interesting juxtaposition of elements in itself), and the audience was invited to experience the videos at each of the stations. Non-conformity was the post-modern element at play seeing as how the audience had to make the choice to opt in and participate. We were not being guided around, nor was the video loud enough to take focus. It was genius – right from the beginning, the audience was an active participant, making the decision to engage (or not) in the work.
Then we moved into the theater for the four main chapters of the performance, starting with ‘in the still of the night’, a duet for Armentrout and Rogelio Lopez. Visually, this pas de deux was about as vulnerable as you could get – both dancers weren’t wearing anything. The choreography was completely real, filled with tender, affectionate movements. From the very subtle when their heads rested against each other to the more complicated acrobatic balances, the dance was all about genuineness and authenticity. And the physical vocabulary was compelling in its structural integrity and for its narrative implications – form and content were never at odds; instead, they were simpatico.
Repetition, movement and character dimensions were all highlighted in the second section of “fantasia upon the moment when the woman invisible to herself and the man who isn’t sure whether he wants to exist yet or not decide to go in on an apartment together”, ‘love is like a string’. Both in person and on video, multiple performers appeared representing different personality traits of the two main characters, while Armentrout explored, through text and movement, what it means ‘to know’ in a relationship. Next up was episode three, ‘talking heads’, where the mundane and the bizarre collided in a deliciously creative (and revealing) fashion. Armentrout and Lopez played out a typical everyday conversation between two partners – how was your day, what are we going to have for dinner, etc. But instead of speaking to each other, they spoke into individual video cameras; their faces simultaneously projected onto chairs, hanging high above the stage. Here was a profound comment on the fluidity of attention and how detachment can easily become part of the picture even when two people are physically in the same place.
In ‘darkness monologue’, the final movement of Armentrout’s “fantasia upon the moment when the woman invisible to herself and the man who isn’t sure whether he wants to exist yet or not decide to go in on an apartment together”, the audience was asked to move onto the main stage space. Pillows and chairs were provided and we were instructed to get comfortable and listen to an auditory meditation while the room went dark. Egalitarianism reigned supreme in this section as the viewer once again took on a participatory role. Yes, we were listening to Armentrout’s voice relaying her own personal journey. Yet, being physically present in and on the stage space had a very dramatic effect. Each individual was transported into the center of the performance experiment and invited to experience the words on their own terms – maybe they remained an observer; maybe they related to the story. It was a powerful, egalitarian and authentic cadence to this twenty-first century post-modern fantasia.