Saturday, September 30, 2006


Agora II at McCarren Park Pool, September 29, 2006

co-written by Jake

I must say, we were hyped up about attending this performance. What with the reams of preparatory emails, the signed waivers, the dance lesson videos, and the required props, it was obvious that Agora II was going to be something special. The Event of the Season. Hoo-whee.

Jake, a veteran of Group Motion, came in from Philadelphia, not once but twice, the first performance having been rained out. We rehearsed our dance steps in the studio, decorated our props, and checked our watches. 'Player' tickets had to be there half an hour early. Since our 'mission' included the running of several laps around a larger-than-Olympic size pool, and the abovementioned dance steps, we figured that we shouldn't wear too much restrictive clothing. Like, say, a COAT.

McCarren Park Pool is one of the more special performance venues in NYC. Sitting on the pool ledge, watching the half-moon rise over the half-finished high-rise condos (look, all you greedy developers and invading yuppies, 'Park View' is a misnomer. A view of McCarren Park is not a 'Park View.' It is a 'view of a barren field covered with trash.' Get a life) I realized what it was--one never sees so much sky. McCarren Pool is huge. There are no buildings, or almost no buildings, crowded around it. It's neat.

Until you sit there in your t00-thin sweater and contemplate the fact that body heat radiates to the sky.

This performance was, in fact, just like Burning Man. It had the interactive, spontaneous, community-oriented thing going. It had the 'huge, flat space' locale. It had the 'large amount of chaotic activity going on simultaneously' concept behind it. Only this performance, this media-lauded performance by choreographer NoƩmie Lafrance, was unlike Burning Man in one crucial aspect: it was tepidly, arrogantly, crushingly lame. Burning Man Lite.

Yes, we had the surprise element of lots of oddly dressed strangers coming up and holding our hands. There were flocks of people on bicycles. There was post-modern music, there was nudity, there were attempts at striking visual tableaus involving long bolts of fabric, and screaming, and focused spotlights.

But at Burning Man, I'll have you know, the people on bicycles had huge neon fish sculptures attached to them, and the musicians were riding surrealistic, fifteen-foot-high fantasy vehicles, and the naked strangers had real conversations, and the participation was extended and genuine.

This performance even had the Burning Man factor of mild physical suffering. By the time it actually started, we had been sitting on a concrete ledge under a heat-sucking sky for a solid hour, and could not feel our fingers. By the time we finally got to start running laps, we had been shivering uncontrollably for forty minutes, and three laps around the pool was not sufficient to alleviate the chills. When the long-awaited participatory dance finale finally arrived, we were too numb to realize what was happening. Or maybe the cues were bad.

At any rate, it did not go on nearly long enough. Instead of being a vortex of dynamic group energy, rising and surging and going wild, it was more of a gestural indication of such. It was over in less than a minute. I kept dancing anyway, to the lame, five-piece semi-jazz band which touched off the 'after-party,' just to warm up. We went home as soon as I could bend my hands well enough to drive, though. Or rather, we went to Long Tan for chili-laden food and a shot of bourbon.

This is what happens, I am afraid, when Avante-Garde Choreographers spend much more of their time and energy negotiating NYC bureaucracies for the use of derelict WPA pool spaces, and setting up labyrinthine on-line instructions, and schmoozing every other performance group in Williamsburg, than in ACTUALLY CHOREOGRAPHING SOMETHING. The abundant raw materials of space and talent were just not used. I mean, come on, if you've got Streb in the mix, where on earth were the cool-ass circus acrobatics, on a high vertical structure that would have transcended the too-big pool plane, and allowed us to see what was going on? Where was the thirty-piece jam band of amazingly talented musicians that would have reverberated the entire space until the wee hours?

And if you're going to demand so much of your audience, you'd better be prepared to give something back. This performance was just patronizing. It was a pretense of interaction, an arrogant gesture, nothing more.

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