Barnes’ Lead Bunny: Duality and Complexity

Written by Kaitlin McCarthy

Paige Barnes’ Lead Bunny.
Photo by Bruce Clayton Tom
Paige Barnes has created her own bizarre world. Part instillation, part performance, Barnes’ Lead Bunny creates a strange and fascinating world through the collaboration of numerous artists, from costume designers to dancers to animators. With her performance space located at the Hedreen Gallery in the Lee Art Building at Seattle University, Barnes has chosen to transform a non-traditional space, and also to begin at 9:30 pm, a non-traditional time. Clearly, for this show, Barnes makes her own rules.
The dancers enter dressed in elaborate costumes by Jme Frank—structured shirts and dresses assembled from layered black, white, and grey garments. Over their heads are striking grey headgear that are a cross between a luchador and a Jason mask—bars cross their face, giving a horror movie vibe. Overlapping duets ensue: the first between Pol Rosenthal and Vincent Cuny, who seem to be at once fighting and hugging in flurries of action. An act of violence followed by an earnest “I’m sorry” illustrates the line these two walk. The second duet between Barnes and Nadia Losonksy alternates between liquid and sharp, and moves in and out of unison with clarity. In the very downstage corner Alice Gosti shifts around on a squeaky folding chair, which she later throws repeatedly, letting it crash to the floor. Both these actions add to the atmospheric sound score, composed by a sound team of Barnes, Bob Barazza, Julian Martlew, and Paris Hurley, a dancer who at one point sings drawn-out eerie notes with her rich and intoxicating voice.
Paige Barnes’ Lead Bunny.
Photo by Bruce Clayton Tom
This feverish and harsh world is contrasted with moments of humanity. Two dancers have a conversation in French, someone laughs, a moment of softness and vulnerability beneath the layers of armor-like costume. The action builds until the whole group is dancing in a high-impact slurry of partnering and floor work. A couple of group unison moments feel slightly anticipated, but otherwise the dancers’ bodies seem to be one with the movement, barely contained, like animals pacing their cage. In a particularly entrancing moment all the dancers don fishing waders and stick feathers straight out of their masks and then move slowly downstage with gestural movement, evoking a feeling of ritual.
The atmosphere is intense and almost futuristic, which is complimented by the space. The Hedreen Gallery is a long corridor with raw concrete walls. Unfortunately, the sight lines in the space are horrific. The majority of the audience cannot see the first third of the stage. Barnes uses the depth well to create layers and perspective, but many of the details are lost on everyone not in the first row.
The dancing is interspersed with several wonderful animations by Stefan Gruber, which are projected on the back wall. The first is made from waves of light and dark that make abstract references to the shape of a bunny before shifting again. The next two are clearly bunny animations, but the proportions of the rabbit are constantly in flux. The films are the only explicit reference to the unique title of the show, but the duality of the title is reflected throughout. Toward the end there is a tender exchange of costume, a moment that feels poised for a kiss, a de-masking. Barnes shows an evolution over the course of the evening that begins with the harsh world of Lead and ends with the intimate humanity of Bunny.
There is one more chance to catch Lead Bunny, the performance. October 14 at 9:30 pm, at the Hedreen Gallery. Get there early for good seats. Tickets are $8, free for students. The instillation is also available to view for free, Wednesday through Saturday, 1:30 pm to 6:00 pm, through the rest of the month.