Posted by: trailerpilot | 08:30::2009

You know good poetry? It’s like that.

Photo by Rachel Tredon.

Photo by Rachel Tredon.

One of my favorite moments in Feed the Guest — a work I’ve seen three, maybe four times over the past year — comes when two dancers stand in profile hiding their faces with right hands, palms out, over their left (downstage) cheeks. In squeaky, cartoonish voices they over-enthusiastically say in unison, “Thank you for coming!” followed immediately in a deep, weary and sarcastic tone with “What a surprise.” They use air quotes to add, “I had a ‘funny’ feeling,” and the lights go out. Instead of constructing a parade of signifiers to frame the text and movement in her work, Julie Mayo simply lets loose a barrage of information, much of it contradictory or at least seemingly so, and encourages the viewer to find clues as to the group dynamics, obscured as they are with enigmatic role-play. That probably makes it sound difficult, but in fact it’s not: I find dances, especially those including text, that barge into scenes assuming givens neither earned nor described far more challenging than the experience of riding along with Mayo’s funny and poignant free verse. Hers is choreography with no interest in givens: Each body, as it enters the space, does so with no baggage of obligation. An example is Adam Rose’s first appearance late in Guest, halting attempts at flight with his back turned to us ending abruptly in a long, blank freeze. She has him enter and do literally nothing — in witholding any detail about this interloper she recontextualizes the other three performers (Christine Benson, Jen Guglielmi and Jessica Wright) instantly and completely.

Mayo premiered two works on Thursday and Friday’s program, a solo she danced entitled whoaa man and womens’ trio (Wright again, with Jessie Young and Anna Goldman) Fever Drift, credited to Mayo and the performers. The latter is in many ways similar to Guest — frequent 2 + 1 arrangements and very little contact or direct address — suggesting some patterns in her approach to ensembles, but it’s also longer, darker and more inconclusive. Guest‘s expansive use of space sets it for me in a meadow or on a lawn; there’s a proudness with which it pushes to every wall and corner. In Fever Drift a pair of floor fans (not plugged in) arbitrarily cut off the rear third of the stage and a hefty chunk of downstage left, and the consistency of entrances and exits coming from a single wing creates the image of a cramped interior with a single door. Goldman, Wright and Young don’t feel like sisters or even friends, merely people stuck with one another, the why of their situation not important. There’s a similar infrequency of speech, but the trickery of Mayo’s diction and humor in Guest and whoaa man is replaced with more Expressionist outbursts — the womens’ long, wandering yells sound like pleas for sincerity slicing up through layer after layer of good manners and, while the movement vocabulary remains as idiosyncratic as ever, there’s more flirtation with what I might call “iconic” shapes and modern dance history. If it were an introduction to her work I might inaccurately assume she’s less formally inventive, but to see it as an eddy in larger investigations Fever Drift more than anything piques curiosity about where she’s headed next.

Photo by Rachel Tredon.

Photo by Rachel Tredon.

Address of the audience in both new pieces is ratcheted up — way up. I feel like we see Guest through a two-way mirror, but mere moments into Fever Drift, all three women danced right up to the front row and quickly, cheerfully said “hi” (one in Spanish). Similar to something seen in Molly Shanahan’s Stamina of Curiosity: my answer is yes in early June, there’s protracted and silent, mover-observer acknowledgment — the dancers made and held eye contact for a very long moment. In whoaa man, this engagement with the audience never goes away. In a large, aubergine dress shirt over short shorts Mayo danced directly at us, confessing and thinking aloud as she romps around the room in a deep squat, her two arms toggling between space-holds and released swings. She’s in a “whoa” place indeed, worked up into a tightly-controlled but wild fit; once she’s done hyperventilating through what sound like random words snatched from her process journals she throws down the (empty) book and storms over to a radiator, leeching onto it as though she wants to tear it right off the goddamned wall. Not at all motivated by a need to demonstrate her skill set — impressive as it is — this was a solo that communicated with candid abandon the absurd difficulty of creating art that feels like a true representation of the self.

Rounding out the evening was Tiffany Rhynard, who performed a solo named Spill between Guest and whoaa man (Fever Drift closed). It’s a surrealist’s cassingle: On Side A she’s a clumsy vamp in a ketchup-red dress and pumps, missing her mouth with a glass of wine and grinding in a white bunny head to a remix of Dolly Parton’s 9 to 5; the B side finds her in a pair of fireman’s overalls flying around through a few dozen terrific phrases of low leaps and floorwork (a very brief epilogue consisted of Rhynard leading an audience dancealong she called to an end precisely as it found its momentum). Her energy was great and direct and she half-sold her handful of jokes with endearing who-gives-a-fuck casualness. I haven’t heard anything about her performing again in Chicago (she’s currently teaching and making work at Middlebury) but I’d like to see more.

Mayo is heading out soon for an M.F.A. from Riverside but stresses this was no “farewell show”: “I am going to grad school, but will be back in Chicago and getting some projects going . . .Dim Sum is doing a two locale thing.” Good to hear — I’m hooked.



  1. […] it to Fever. You know that Dim Sum Dance show I liked so much last month? Here are a few moments from its premiere and closer “Fever Drift,” courtesy […]

  2. […] is my first in-depth look at the choreography of Julie Mayo. Keep an eye on this blog for a follow-up with Mayo about her recent programming venture, and […]

  3. […] and Colleen Leonardi, were new to me.) Time was the only constraint coproducers Kate Corby and Julie Mayo gave the participants; originals and wrecks both had to last 15 minutes or less, and most of the […]

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