- Posted: 5:43 PM, December 21, 2011
In a year filled with site-specific productions that often involved more or less voluntary audience participation, this revival of Meier's 1993 dance-theater piece (first done at PS 122) was by far the most physically intense for both performers and public. What attracted me, a theater critic? The concept itself, of course (more on that later). But also the prospect of challenging myself with a show involving things I dreaded (being touched by strangers) and things I looked forward to (music including John Zorn's Naked City and Missing Foundation ).
A little before 7pm last night, a dozen of us met in the lobby of New York Live Arts. We signed waivers, then waited to be called. Soon, a naked lady showed up -- and not just any naked lady but The Naked Lady, aka Anne Iobst (whom you may remember as part of the performance-terror duo Dancenoise). Wearing only black pumps, she gathered her flock, opened the door and stepped onto the street, where she marshalled us into a waiting van. Already in the van was Nurse Vendetta "Asparagus" K. Starr, aka Mike Iveson (last seen as the narrator in Elevator Repair Service's "The Select"). "Do you know where we're going?" asked The Naked Lady. Silence.
And off we went, to a destination unknown.
We couldn't have dreamed of better hosts than The Naked Lady and Nurse Asparagus, she of the bizarre German accent. They served us tea. They held a trivia contest.
After about 25 minutes of driving, The Naked Lady exclaimed "I want a donut" as we passed by a Dunkin' Donut. She jumped out of the van and started walking. All I could think was "How is she going to pay?" Never mind that she was still naked, ambling briskly under a drizzle.
Shortly thereafter we arrived and disembarked. That's when things got hairy.
The tone suddenly changed from jocular to hostile as we were forcefully lined up into a narrow staircase, then, one by one, pushed into a labyrinth made of dozens and dozens and dozens of enormous, six-foot-tall cardboard refrigerator boxes. We were in pitch-black darkness, pushed around by hooded figures. Once in a while they turned on flashlights. Being blind and vulnerable in a disorienting environment, we were at their mercy. I was pulled this way and that. I was shoved into a wall, then into a fellow audience member -- our faces slammed into each other. I was forced to crouch. Someone breathed heavily against my neck. I had to obey orders barked at me.
The half-dozen performers hurtled against walls and each other. They dragged one another on the floor. All that lit only by moving flashlights. It was like an apocalyptic cross between a riot in the HBO series "Oz" and Peter Weiss' "Marat/Sade." We were inmates in a world drunk on powerviolence, where the strong ruled the weak. I'm not sure where it all stands in terms of choreography, but the impact was both physical and emotional.
One thing, though: The volume should be turned way up -- if you can hear another audience member laugh nervously, the music's not loud enough.