Sunday, September 6, 2009

Tzveta Kassabova’s "Locus"

More extremely than any performance I have seen, Tzveta Kassabova’s Locus required audience involvement. I do not mean involvement in the sense of participation in choreographed phrases, but involvement in the sense of encompassing you in the performance space, enveloping you in the disturbing, whitewashed asylum created in the front-most section of the dance wing of the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center on October 2, 2008.
The collaborative actualization of Tzveta Kassabova’s concept Locus, ushered the audience members along a path of bubble wrap, taped to the floor in a boxy figure eight—constantly moving. Initially, the incessant popping created by dozens of feet popping the small, air-filled pockets was overwhelming. The loud cloud of static droned out the mobile woman reading from an open binder. As I filed into a narrow room with haphazardly stacked, white furniture with visible brush strokes, the thick smell of drying paint overwhelmed me. More overwhelming however, was the woman contained in the narrow room. Her blank stare showed no awareness of her peculiar surroundings—tall shudders leaning against the wall, tables resting precariously atop each other. She seemed devoured by the friction created between her outer wrist and the wall mirrors as she slid it along. Her steps were planted and deliberate, but her face showed no intent; the disconnect was startling.
Keeping up with the flow, I did not remain in the narrow room long. I left the absent-eyed woman and entered a larger room. A studio with high ceilings, mirrored walls, and corner windows. The bubble path took me behind a curtain of window frames, through it I could see a single dancer. As I rounded the corner, stepping in front of the frame curtain, I was still physically separated from the dancer, both by space and a large, square cage structure. She threw herself about in the cage, with deliberation and control. Forcefully, she would turn her body or race to the corner, stopping just shy of touching the bars. Her lack of contact with the setting was in stark opposition to the woman in the narrow room.
As if on a conveyor belt, I was carried out of the room and into a hallway where a projector shone an intense white light directly into my eye line. Only when I put my hand to my brow as a shield did I notice another dancer, plastered to the wall opposite the picture projection. Her hands struggled to grip the flat surface. When an unexpected soprano note shot into my ear, I became aware that the woman reading from the open binder was now behind me, in the audience line. She had been wandering around like a free radical in the scene, and suddenly she was back in unison, filed in with the rest of us.
Four dancers in all, occupied the whitewashed setting, along with the narrator, and a violinist who, like a ghost would disappear around a corner, music still audible. At one point, I was struck to see two dancers inhabiting the largest room on the bubble path, the studio. Their movements were not always synchronized, each moved on their own path in their own manner; however, when they shared a sequence their movements were startlingly identical. It was as if the velocity of each right arm swinging was precisely the same. The precision was paradoxical though, because they did not seem aware of each other’s presence.
The most noticeable thing to me about the movements of all the dancers was that they did not seem prescribed. Raw, organic, instinctual, not prescribed. This drove me to think of the experience, not as a performance, but as a glimpse of another world. A disturbing, though-provoking other world. I think it was the proximity to the dancers and the movement that solidified this feeling. If the same props and movement had been set of a stage, the removal of self and involvement would have changed my perception entirely.
The most paradoxical element of the piece hit me when I caught a few words of the walking woman. I kept hearing her say the words change and direction. Appropriately, the dancers were doing just that, pivoting on a dime. But me, I was stuck on the same track I had been for the last fifty minutes. Why hadn’t I turned around? Why hadn’t I stopped to observe something longer? Or decidedly removed my feet from the conveyor belt that was, after all, not even moving?
At one point, I realized the ground below me was no longer crackling. The bubble wrap had been all but compressed, save the occasional, lone pop. It was then that the dancers unrolled a new path for us, of fresh bubble wrap, leading outside. I could no longer see them, but I knew they were moving. Just like when I exited the narrow room, the studio, or the hallway I knew their motion was continuous. There were no wings for the dancers, or me, to rest in.

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