Saturday, December 1, 2012

REVIEW: Proprioception

The Shop Theater
Nov 29 - Dec 2

As a final project of a student of the Experimental Theater Wing, you'd be comforted to know that Proprioception's is open about the experiment on display -- probing very specifically into the reason that time slows down between two people in love. Here, the question is neurological: how peoples minds inexplicably sync up through love, and through music.

The format of the performance is this: two Johns (Keenan Jolliff and Trevor Salter) each play out moments in their relationship with Daniella Rivera) Meanwhile, John's roommate played by John Gutierrez is being driven by John (Keenan Jolliff) to pursue a relationship with a girl he has a crush on. Woven through this, Andrew Guay MC's a television program, channelling a doctor whose research addresses the notion of time on the mind. Guay also directly addresses the audience and engages them in thoughts of memory and connection.

The description above may make you believe that this is a philosophical play, full of musing. And I'm not going to lie -- sometimes it goes there (sometimes a bit too much). But what keeps the play moving and vital and grounded is the physical body in space -- something that creator Keenan Jolliff and his company of performers understand well.

The body is used abstractly and realistically; for huge sweeping emotions and the depth of the tiniest moments. For example, at one point early in the play, John (Keenan Jolliff) comes home with a new "boner jam" (definition 3) to rock out with his roommates. His dance with one of his roommates (Devante Lawrence) is hilarious and sharp, but when the moment transitions into John berating his other roommate (John Gutierrez) for not following up on his desires, the dancing continues fluidly -- with John jumping onto a table and fluidly gesturing while continuing his angry rhythms.

This kind of use of the body strikes home for me -- when I was in college, a few years into my movement training, I volunteered at a local middle school (Thompkins Square), and I vividly remember being shocked at how evident the physical traumas and explosive waves of puberty are on young men and women that age. Teenagers are fidgety and neurotic because their bodies are enflamed with chemicals -- and there's something truly transparent and endearing about a performance which leverages that kind of vibrant energy.

And yet, while John's dance on the tables and sofas of his apartment manifest explosive emotion -- a very Grotowskian use of internal impulse -- the movement of Andrew Guay, during his conversations channeling the Doctor, comes from a different world of movement -- the abstract, post-modern vocabulary of symbolic movement. 

Unlike Keenan's fun, over the top dance movement, this abstract world of movement does not spring from deep impulses, but rather from a gestural language -- it adds to the punctuation and the rhythm, helping transform what could be philosophical chatter into something more musical.

Guay is not the only one to enter this world of movement, but he wears it best.

A third realm of movement comes into play in a touching and poignant movement piece on a couch between two young, new lovers; starting from those little hand movements and adjustments you do in the presence of your crush, eventually finding their way to synchronistic, mirrored -- but still naturalist -- movement.

As with every other aspect of the work, what pulls it off is the fact that it is genuine, and heart-felt. In these moments, these performers are transparent, and you are in the same place as these people -- because it ties into your memory.

The real accomplishment, however, is not how any one of these modes of movement are used by the ensemble, but how fluidly and comfortably they can move between them. 

The moment on the couch culminates at the height of connected realism, and then leaps into moments of abstract gestural dance between the two. Daniella Rivera's character is slow-dancing with John (Trevor Salter), and it explodes into moments of expressionist, fluid duet. A monologue by the mostly-silent Devante Lawrence -- rapid-fire, serious, into the microphone, contemplating how impossible it is for two human beings to truly understand each other -- culminates in a hilarious run of implied Halo slaughter.

One of the tough parts of trying to dramatize the feeling of being in love -- especially amongst the young -- is trying to create something that doesn't fall flat, feel small, or shrink in the face of the experience. The fact that Keenan and company have brought together a broad palate of the human body's response is indicative of how deeply felt this work is; no single mode of expression is good enough, but they're all united in the same place.

As I said, the experiment is about whether our relationship with time is subjective; whether love is truly the moment where our relationship to the world around us syncs up with that of another person. A meditation on mirror neurons.

In a way, it's also a meditation on why performance works. After all, watching other people do things, talk about things, etc. is not necessarily a replacement for doing it ourselves. The theory that music, or love, or theater can make you sync up to the experience of another person is the whole reason to practice those arts -- to build a connection to others. 

Whether through the direct address conversation to the audience (asking them to supply their own cherished memories, even in safe anonymized format), the narratives presented, or -- most engagingly -- through the physical movements sparked, Proprioception is a bold gamble toward that noble cause.
Are not words and sounds rainbows and illusive bridges between things which are eternally apart? - Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra

UPDATE: Proprioception is sense that the body has of itself, also known as Kinesthesia.