Program Notes, Gutted Children
Program bios are like Rorschach ink blots. Individually, they don't mean a damned thing, but taken together, they unlock secrets about a show's subconscious.
Last weekend's award for most self-satisfied program goes to the spectacular, clanging, and unerringly pretentious Degenerate Art Ensemble. Their Cuckoo Crow was like a delightfully creepy, and occasionally tiresome, child of avant artistes—papa was a punk-rock dandy, mama was a butoh queen. There were animated birds projected on people and the ceiling; men suspended horizontally, walking down the walls; a dancer crawling through the audience, sing-sighing her high-pitched gibberish. God bless the Moore Theatre for booking the group, but the DAE needs a hard-assed director to fillet the flab—screeching and writhing has been a "radical art" default for about a hundred fucking years—and a relentless editor to save their program from nauseating self-flattery in the third person: "Her unique style of butoh dance/physical theater and improvisation has taken her to places where anything is possible..." and "by age 13, he was an accomplished saxophonist, flautist, clarinetist..." Seattle is the Land of the Quiet, Self-Effacing Artist and part of me wants to encourage these excesses. But only a small part.
At the other end of the spectrum, High Kindergarten Performance Group at On the Boards didn't include a smudge of biographical information in its program—just names. Their Computer was more lo-fi, messier, even weirder. By the end of the show, the actors were lying in sleeping bags on a floor slathered with goo: a quivering blob of shaving cream, puddles of Mountain Dew (shaken at crotch level and ejaculated onto an actor in a bathtub), slicks of stage blood (poured over actors in their underwear while they shouted to a death-metal guitar roar). And it was pretty funny. HKPG is a polarizing group. Some people hate their performances, in part because you can't get any ironic distance from them. They already know they're a little goofy. Their self-aware humor is an attractive entry point and draws you closer—within striking distance.
Pat Graney Company hit the golden mean with The Vivian Girls (see Stranger Suggests, page 21). Its program bios were strictly professional: Amelia Reeber studied here, Cathy Sutherland performs there. The dance performance was also the tightest and most affecting. Based on the prolific painting of recluse, janitor, and devout Catholic Henry Darger, The Vivian Girls focuses on his 15,000-page fantasy about a "child slave rebellion." The iconic girl-children, who often have little penises, frolic in forests and meadows, but are just as likely to be crucified, hanged, or eviscerated. The dancers hopscotch, tiptoe, and climb on two stacks of humongous books onstage with Darger's paintings flashing in the background. Graney's choreography is idea-driven and theatrical, rather than just "dancey." She tells a story of innocence, experience, and innocence regained with the dancing "Girls" who mimic, then step out of the pastoral and violent paintings. It's no-nonsense dance. With a no-nonsense program.