Monday, April 11, 2005

Asimina Chremos & Kairol Rosenthal “L’air Lair” @ PAC/edge

Asimina Chremos (and Kairol Rosenthal as Director) returned to the PAC/edge performance festival this year with another site-specific performance in a nook of the Athenaeum Theater. Last year it was a well-received performance for small audiences in a backstage dressing room. This year Asimina is paired with Dan Mohr and they have installed themselves in a vending machine room with about five audience members at a time, for about fifteen minutes.

The audience enters and sits in a row of seats against the wall. Squatting atop two soda machines are Asimina and Dan, both dressed in blue mechanic overalls. Kairol (I'm assuming) is running tech (turning on and off the light) and guarding the door, which is something of a battle for Kairol as thirsty theatergoers try to enter in search of sugar water. The light of the soda machines illuminates the room, as does a single light dangling from the ceiling.

Asimina and Dan rise, perform some slow movements, exchange some meaningful glances. Asimina strikes some heroic, yoga-ish poses. Slowly focus moves from inside their bodies to the room. They shield their eyes for the glaring light at one point and then Asimina leads the way in establishing their perch as the edge of a pool of some kind. She reaches into the water, fingers the illustrated, perspiration drops on the soda machine and they both eventually take off their shoes and dangle their feet in the “water”. Dan interjects a song in a language that I am unfamiliar with but I ignorantly take as something from the Near East (it is Corsican actually, if the Chicago Tribune is to be believed). Asimina lies with her head in Dan’s lap as he sings and the whole thing seems like some kind of tableau from a Persian or Indian myth. They wrapped the piece up by putting on their shoes, hopping down to the floor. Dan bought a soda, Asimina filled a pail with water and then they walked out, presumable to return to there work in the Athenaeum Theater.

This piece was a bit of refreshment in its modest size and intimate installation compared to the more expansive theater and dance in the PAC/edge festival. Keeping things short also left just one straightforward question with me…

What is refreshment? Is it found in a can, in nature, in a foreign land, in our own cultural heritage, in each other? The performer’s bias seems to be towards the dancerly trope of turning inward for answers, informed by the teachings of the East. A moment of meditation comes after a stare down contest with the audience just before they hop off their soda-boxes. They assert that even in the midst of a pervasive global market there are quiet places inside to turn, and love in which to take solace.

While I appreciate the many benefits that meditation and such practices can bring, as well as the humility with which, what I will call, a “Mindfulness agenda” is presented within the performance, I would also like to point out that there is the possibility of fetishizing and becoming a thoughtless consumer these practices just like any other thing. In the piece at times, the singing or a gesture would go a bit long, with a lovely tone but without the weight of much more than a self-satisfied feeling of engagement. It is something that could too easily be accepted as Authentic because of the exotic packaging, lovely/talented performers, or the aerial location from which the message is delivered. Truth from on high does not mean it is true.

For me this piece presents an alternative form a refreshment sincerely and kindly but uncritically of their own solution. I worry if without that additional step of self-awareness if we as audience members aren’t just being sold meditation in the place of soda pop and that those of us that engage in such practices aren’t confusing yet another layer of packaging for the truth. Perhaps these concerns are beyond the scope of “L’air Lair”, but it is a tendency I have often seen in dance-based work in hybrid formats (though more often coming from artists on the West Coast). I feel like it is a potential tripping point for anyone attempting to integrate spiritual practices into aesthetic contexts.

With that aside, “L’air Lair” is easy to like for its clarity, humble scope, and fun use of an unofficial aesthetic space in the building. In many ways, it is the kind of piece that the PAC/edge fest savors to show. It is multidisciplinary, accessible in vocabulary, quirky in format, and mildly challenging in content. Frankly, I would imagine this would be more of the bread and butter of the festival than the experimental theater that it privileges right now.

Just look at how well both the critics and audiences have responded to these kind of pieces. Credit is due to the creators/performers but I do not discount the situation as the gesture/gimmick that in the end that sells the soda pop.

So why is this festival mostly in black box theaters?

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