Impeccibly Impossible, Unabashedly Human: A response by Chrissy Martin

A response to the works-in-progress showing of Impossible Dances by BADCo.

In>Time Performance Festival: Nature Theater of Oblivia and Impossible Dances, BADco.

Friday, February 22nd, 7:00pm, Links Hall *

image credit: In>Time Performance Festival

********************

The In>Time Performance Festival is winter-long performance festival taking place in several performance venues across Chicago. This festival happens only once every 3 years, so I felt luck to catch it this time around. On Friday, February 22nd  at Links Hall, I attended a split bill of two foreign companies: Oblivia, an interdisciplinary, minimalist theater troupe from Helsinki, and BADCo., and collaborative performance collective from Zagreb, Croatia. I was excited to attend a performance of unfamiliar artists in such a familiar performance venue. I went into this show knowing virtually nothing about either performance or company, save for what I read from the show’s description on at in-time-performance.org.

BADCo., a collaborative performance collective from Zagreb, Croatia, showed their works-in-progress piece, Impossible Dances, in response to a piece by Goat Island, The Sea and Poison (1998), which has been performed extensively throughout North America and Europe. BADCo. Is one group of nine different national and international artists/companies responding to archived works by Goat Island as a part of their retrospective, which will be an exhibition open to the public at the Chicago Cultural Center at the end of March. The work Impossible Dances will be performed in full in conjunction with the opening of this exhibition.

As a younger performer in Chicago, I have learned that Goat Island was a legendary artists’ collective that changed the way performance is created and perceived, not only in the Chicago area, but nationally and internationally. However, having moved to Chicago to pursue dance only in 2014, I was never able to see any of their work. Through watching this piece, Impossible Dances, I understood that Goat Island’s influence is still inspiring new and refreshing performance, as well as supporting experimental artistic communities both at home and abroad.

The audience walked into a space with our chairs placed on stage in a loose grid pattern, all facing different directions. Amongst the chairs there were music stands strategically positioned with small stacks of papers, written instructional scores for what we were about to witness. Whether this score was from the original piece, The Sea and Poison, or created for the piece we were about to witness, I was unsure. There were laptops at the edge of the stage playing repeated clips of the original Goat Island performance, also placed strategically so audience could see them. Perhaps these video clips were a necessary reference for the performers, but it also served as a visual acknowledgement that Impossible Dances was a response to something else, to another world that was only available to the audience in small, repetitive snippets.

Two women in casual black tops, jeans, and sneakers, moved with a virtuosic rigor amongst the lanes we audience members created, using us as the set, scenery, and the primary constraint to their movement patterns. These two women navigated a series of impossible tasks outlined in the written score, which all audience members could read and negotiate from their seats. The written score outlined a series of tasks, simply worded, that were also physically or philosophically impossible to perform. Their repetitive movement patterns were performed with athleticism and specificity, though it was clear that they did not always achieve the movements they were intending. Their arms, legs, and walking patterns were sharp and angular, a necessary choice due to the gridded seating pattern of the audience. Their focus was resolute and their movements were full-bodied, leading them into different series of large leaps, grand falls, and powerful walks across the space. I appreciated each dancers’ commitment to her internal task and the clear outward expression of that commitment.

BADCo. final
photo by Chrissy Martin

Their movements were precise in intention, but wild in execution. I understood through that seemingly simple contradiction that these women were trying to do something they could not actually do. Their humanity shined in this piece, not only because they were obviously attempting to do things that they couldn’t quite achieve (to err is human, etc.), but the fourth wall was completely broken. Their wild jumping and flailing limbs were often dangerously close to the audience. One performer leapt up into the air and almost fell onto an audience member. Both audience member and performer reacted authentically, laughing nervously and smiling at each other, much like how I would react when bumping into someone on a crowded train car. The ease at which the performers could switch between hyper focus on mysterious tasks and natural social interaction was very comforting. I wonder how much of that type of interaction will make it into the final iteration of this piece.

Along with the background videos of The Sea and Poison and visible written score, a performer sitting on the sidelines would read a footnote into a microphone every so often as the two performers continued moving around the space. These footnotes told the story of one Goat Island company member’s battle with cancer, as well as larger topics such as inevitable environmental collapse and subsequent societal collapse, with continuous threads about attempting to discover the possibilities inside of what seems impossible. In this way, the themes of the original piece, Sea and Poison, were given to us, the audience, succinctly and comprehensively. All the referential elements provided a supportive container for the audience to contextualize this seemingly abstract and absurd physical performance.

I thoroughly enjoyed the juxtaposition of abstract, task-oriented performance with essential humanity, demonstrated not only in the way that performers easily interacted with the audience and performed failure, but in the written, visual, and auditory story that contextualized the piece. Bryan Saner, a former member of Goat Island, was in the audience, and was beyond thrilled with this works-in-progress showing. He said that the backbone of the original piece, which was performed about 100 times throughout the US and Europe, was the community they built through presentation, and a sense of togetherness around that which is intangible, or impossible. He said, and I agree, that this response, Impossible Dances, allows the original intent of Sea and Poison to live on, finding another community to build something around it, essentially becoming a “pay-it-forward” of community performance projects. I will be going to the Goat Island exhibition at the end of March and look forward to seeing how Impossible Dances blooms into its full iteration.

Check out more of the IN>TIME Performance Festival at in-time-performance.org

Check out the Goat Island Archive, opening reception on Friday, March 29th from 6-9pm at the Chicago Cultural Center Exhibition Hall, 4th Floor North, 78 E. Washington. The Exhibition will run from Saturday March 30th to June 23rd , 2019.

********************

Chrissy Martin is an interdisciplinary performing artist with a background in dance, vocal performance, and experimental theater.  She graduated with a BFA in music with a focus on social praxis from New College of Florida in 2006. She has performed with numerous companies around the US, including Sarasota Contemporary Dance, Muscle Memory Dance Theatre, Danielle Georgiou Dance Group, Dead White Zombies, Megan Rhyme Dance, BodyCompass Dance Projects, and Ayako Kato/ Art Union Humanscape. Somatic practices such as Pilates, Gyrotonic ® Expansion System, Body Mind Centering, and Laban/Bartinieff Fundamentals inform Chrissy’s integrated movement style. Chrissy is involved in the global contact improvisation community, which has inspired her to research sensory feedback in movement and develop her own improvisational structures. She regularly teaches at the Chicago contact improvisation jam, is an adjunct faculty member in the Dance department at Columbia College, and teaches social and folk dance to children in various schools around Chicago.

(*) PRJ is partnering with Links Hall to celebrate their 40th anniversary by providing a platform for artist-to-artist responses to the work that is presented as part of the Pay-the-40th-Forward season. Thank you, Links Hall, for all that you do for the dance and performance communities in Chicago. Congratulations on 40 years!