Monday, January 31, 2011

Catherine Galasso at Meridian Gallery

Photo credit: Michelle Lynch
"Memorandum of Understanding: Your Butt is Covered"
Choreography by Catherine Galasso
Meridian Gallery, San Francisco, CA
January 28, 2011

Downtown San Francisco's Meridian Gallery was transformed this past weekend with Catherine Galasso's intriguing choreographic comment on perception and reality, "Memorandum of Understanding: Your Butt is Covered".  The Meridian Dance Program seeks to bring visual art and dance theater together in a way that highlights their dependence and interdependence while co-existing in the same space.  And, what an outstanding choice to add Galasso's narratively-complex work to their diverse repertoire.

"Memorandum of Understanding: Your Butt is Covered" was a mobile piece that unfolded in multiple facets within the gallery.  Galasso's treatment of perception and reality was clear from the very beginning as the dancers emerged from within the audience.  While this might suggest a blurring of the line between the audience and the performer, instead, the issue was more focused on the relationship between the dancer and the viewer.  As the cast moved through the crowd, they made direct eye contact, touched people's arms and one guy looked like he might actually take a sip of my friend Anne's wine.  It was so telling and revealing that closeness still seems incredibly uncomfortable and invasive.  Even in the face of avant-garde performance and post-post-modern dance, there is still an unwritten rule and inherent desire for distance between the audience and performer.  Galasso was not really offering answers to this dilemma, but rather demonstrating our perception of the performer's role against the reality of modern day choreography.

The first movement passage was filled with line-dance-like steps; easy footwork all building on the very basic foundation of 'step touch'.  Here again, I found my pre-conceptions being confronted.  I often attend these performance art evenings expecting the completely obscure and obtuse; I come prepared for the weird and the random.  Although the final scene of the evening was definitely bizarre, I was heartened that Galasso also included long sequences that spoke of simplicity, accessibility, clarity and egalitarianism.  The reality of her work did not pander to assumptions.

Next to the staircase where one of the men performed a lip synced routine to 1950s-style music; he so looked the part of the iconic dreamboat.  Though again, the image of perfection was challenged as the lighting design revealed an underlying creepiness and morbidity.

Once we were ushered up to the second level of Meridian, the audience was faced with a choice.  The dance was divided between two rooms, and it was only possible to be in one of them for the duration of this middle segment.  As a viewer, you were of course seeing what was in front of you, but keenly aware that you were missing something elsewhere.  The whole story was not available to you; there were only portions of visibility - a brilliant comment on what we want from narrative dance as opposed to what we get from it.  

I must admit that the 3rd floor section was not my personal favorite; I couldn't grasp was what was happening and still three days later, am unsure of what its purpose was.  Perhaps it was just a comment on absurdity with the series of scenes and vignettes depicting a dysfunctional home environment.  But the strangeness was not the problem; the lack of movement was my issue. Modern dance, post-modern dance, dance theater, dance installation art, whatever you call it, choreography should be the foundation and in this final movement of "Memorandum of Understanding: Your Butt is Covered", the dance was very much missing.


Unknown said...

It is so disappointing to read that dance critics still dissent about the lack of ‘dancing’ in choreography. What day and age are we living in?

Heather Desaulniers said...

Totally fair point and I would be interested to read what an art critic, performance critic or theater critic thought about the piece. But, as a dance critic, I will always look for the dancing no matter the genre, the decade or what is considered trendy right now in choreography.