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A mylar jumble of wrinkled, reflected light came crawling and crunching across the room. The dancer’s body, hidden in an emergency poncho, incrementally revealing feet, hands, and limbs. Jordan MacIntosh-Hougham remained concealed in mylar for the duration of Breathing Apparatus, but shared their intimate confines through a GoPro camera and projected live video feed showing their interior world. Revealing no more than limbs and creating a few definitive arcs and angles within the mylar before exiting, the performance left more questions than answers.

Photo by Stefano Altamura.

Displayed and hidden flesh, for the pleasure and discomfort of the audience, was one theme linking several of the Performance Lab pieces on Saturday in On the Board’s Studio Theater. The animal costume wrapping Jesse Belle-Jones in scanty faux furs and deer mask created an effect of concealment and transformation similar to the mylar. But in Artemis, Belle-Jones created a more direct dialogue with the audience through her burlesque tone, displaying the pieces of costume, as well as parts of her body, one by one. Holding the mask aloft, or extending a leg for viewing, the sexualized animal became a human female. She became aware of her power over her viewer, though only to a point: realizing she’d been observed, her movement stopped short, recoiling. The piece told the story of Artemis, complete with bathing scene, through animal grace and human sensuality. With impressive control of how she moved across the space as both animal and woman characters, Belle-Jones confronted the relationship between observer and observed with a sense of humor and play.

The third piece focused around the body and observation was Weighted Bodies performed by KT Kusmaul. Her movements started as slow lunges and leanings with careful balance and strength, grasping at her own belly, seeming to enjoy its capacity for folds and heft. She continued with bigger movement, growing to running and jumping, wearing a simple costume of black shorts and sports bra top. Like Belle-Jones, Kusmaul sought the attention of the observer, and was interested in putting parts of her body that would be normally taboo to stare at in the literal spotlight. However, Kusmaul didn’t appear to have any moments of power struggle in her story. The narrative was one of a strong and honest body, presented unapologetically, whether in spite of or because of the conventions of size and form that often police bodies on display.

The performance also included two pieces that connected around the theme of intimacy, spirituality,  and storytelling. Both MALI’E and this is between us, as solo performances, invited the attendees into the very center of the spirituality of the performer through words, images, and sounds. Dåkot-ta Alcantara-Camacho began his piece by laying out an altar of objects in the center of the performance space and used song, rap, breakdance, and chant to celebrate the personal space he created. Speaking in English, Spanish, and an indigenous language in his performance, he sang about respect to land and ancestors. He invited the audience to stand with him for part of the work, and it was a small, but impactful gesture of including and welcoming the bodies in the room more fully into his creation. His cartwheels and breakdancing kicks were featherlight and purposeful, an interesting juxtaposition of human movement and lightness against his solemn attention to the physical objects he laid out slowly on a straw mat.

The final piece of the night, performed by HATLO, was a vulnerable monologue set to a video collage of landscape, fire, water, and body parts projected across the speaker’s body and onto the wall behind, the fire and water dancing across them while performing. They spoke to the audience in the first person with a story about belief and religion and the human capacity for change and hope. The performance was at times cult-like in its declarations and authoritative tone, telling viewers that even if nature explodes and we burn (Mt. Rainier erupting, for example), we can still be okay. Yet it was intensely personal, revealing deep fears in other moments, giving the audience a dynamic and emotional view into HATLO’s world.

This edition of Performance Lab, the second of the new program, showed work in progress or evolution. The intimacy of five human bodies and their stories unfolded among, around, and between the audience in an effective gallery of movement and words. The only performer to give direct information or instruction to their audience was Alcantara-Camacho, and his use of direct speaking, rapping, and chanting into a microphone facilitated this kind of literal dialogue. For the performers who were not using voice or words, there was indeed an interesting tension for the audience to explore regarding the extent to which interacting, interrupting, or staring was welcomed or choreographed by the performer. Everyone sees everyone, and all are observed. Genre becomes fuzzy at On the Boards, by design. Participating in the show means being a part of permeability, and accepting vulnerability on your own behalf and of others.

Performance Lab was presented at On the Boards, December 15, 2018 and was co-curated by Charles Smith and Syniva Whitney.