Gesture, Relic, and Mimesis — Faye Driscoll Morgan Thorson Young Jean Lee

Faye Driscoll's You're Me

I think the above photo of Faye and Jesse is by Christy Pessagno

After a performance by Morgon Thorson/Spaceholder Festival at Alverno Presents a few months ago I wrote down a bunch of stuff in my notepad on my phone while sitting in the theater right after the show. The moment has passed but at the time Thorson’s show reminded me of Faye Driscoll’s performance of You’re Me at the Joyce . In a good way. It was different but there were commonalties between the two in terms of the choreographic devices employed. I wondered about the shared interests of the choreographers and then wondered even more about the relationship to Young Jean Lee’s Untitled Feminist Show.  My notepad comments from February are below with my current comments on my comments.

In contemporary performance, we embody OUR present tense through acknowledging that we are aware that we are embodying it

Both You’re Me and Spaceholder Festival had this way of making a performance about making a performance. (What if you made a story ballet that was about the making of a story ballet? Is that something new? Or is that actually just A Chorus Line?) What sets these apart from Chorus Line, I think, is that they are not razzley dazzley big budget productions. The choreographers create a commentary within their own work in a pensive way. They are disrupting the razzle dazzle through the use of similar tropes. The performances are frontal, showy, and use gestures like jazz hands (I don’t recall if they actually use actual jazz hands, but they used gestures LIKE jazz hands) that are recognizable. So it is at once quotidian and spectacular. And as tired I am of irony in the hipster sense (think white Brooklyn 24 year old in a John Deer hat, or the expensive restaurant with waiters in gas station attendant shirts), these artists had me into it. Both made me think about the public presentation of self that is so prevalent in our social media laden culture. The extraordinary craft and care visible in each of the works makes something about the fashionable tongue-in-cheek contemporary moment more visible. For example in You’re Me when the incredible Jesse Zarrit and Driscoll don themselves in myriad wigs, powders, clothing, make up, masks, hat (again my memory might not be spot on here but hopefully you get it) they do it at a lightning speed with such precision and clarity that you actually care. And want to listen.

We store relics in our bodies

A post-merce world

I noticed overt reference. For Morgon Thorson I appreciated a sense of the overtness of her overtedness. A display of Merce Cunningham amidst a representation of embodied display. The found objects, the relics on stage, made me think about how dancers store relics in our bodies. The small styrofoam dog was probably my favorite part. It became this symbol for affection somehow. A friendly version of one of those terrifying taxidermic dogs people have in their homes –Morgon Thorson created an on-stage remembrance of a loving presence. A moment of lightness inside the pensive quality, she kept the piece playful enough for me to access it through out.

Acknowledging the representation


When I saw Untitled Feminist Show in Philly I didn’t know what to do, say, think, or feel. I knew I needed several days, perhaps weeks to be able to discuss it with clarity. The night I saw the show the performers seemed like they were tired. Knowing two of them as friends, one very dearly, I wondered if perhaps I was reading into something via an all too personal lens. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that as a performer, the stamina that this show must have required is something I have never known. Not onstage anyway. Not because of the length, the physicality, the specificity, or the nudity. Although those are all of course factors, perhaps. But because of the epic narrative Young Jean Lee has created. And they are inside of that as the energy of the theater vibrated with their bodies. Within the profound container that she constructed and directed. The container that women experience subconsciously on the day to day. She put it out there for me to see. And I felt defensive. And I feel tired of feeling defensive. So I saw them through tired sensitive eyes.

They acknowledged the gaze on their bodies. The gaze not on their bodies. The gaze that we as the audience so desperately want to avoid and silence the thoughts that creep in (she has beautiful breasts!) and then perhaps allow them in.

When one of the performers skillfully and lightly pretends to point out a member of the audience and begins to make lewd gestures, I got it. Representing the representation.

I could go on. And then I’d have to really edit this blog entry. Which I promised myself I wouldn’t too to the level of scrutinization that prevents me from hitting update. So I’ll let a pro step in. (And yes I understand there are commonalities between Driscoll and Young Jean Lee because Driscoll was involved in Untitled Feminist Show. That doesn’t detract from the shared interests between the two. Just sayin).