I moved to New York because New York is where it's at. The highest concentration of edgy, innovative, shocking, and amazing art is here, so it's ironic that one of the best performances I've seen in NYC is by a company from out of town. The Portland based collective, tEEth, led by Co-Artistic Directors Angelle Hebert and Phillip Kraft, bring to Joyce Soho what the venue needs. Grub is a captivating and beautifully disturbing work.
The piece deals with the idea of facade, and exposes what lies beneath in the murky depths of the human psyche. They flaunt everything that we try so hard to hide; the ugliness, the dirt, the pain. The six member company opens their mouths painfully wide, letting out powerful vocalizations that correspond to vibrating physical contortion. Then the group gathers for a family portrait, putting on smiles as if to say, "we're normal, really". They're dressed in white racer-style suits, and there's a hint of death in their pale faces and darkened eyes. The women look the part of role played by Helena Bonham Carter.
Hebert is one of the few choreographers to choreograph the face. Her performers take on Butoh-esque expressions of agony, and they use their hands to further manipulate their face, stretching open their mouths, tugging on their eyebrows, and squashing their flesh. This human disfigurement, especially in the face, creates an automatic visceral reaction, and their prolonged extreme tension enhances the quality of calm once it is released.
There is a moment when performer, Melissa Murray turns in a circle, opening the spiraling zipper on her costume, shedding her skin like an orange rind, and exposing the soft, vulnerable inside. Left in a dress of flowing white fabric, she performs a tender and dramatic solo, holding a video camera in her hand to catch close-ups of herself.
In the most intense moment of the piece, all six dancers line up side by side downstage. As they make robotic shifts in position, an almost intolerable droning sound gains volume until I feel the vibration in my seat. Stark white light and periodic bursts of flickering strobe exaggerate their zombie-like movements and create the horrific atmosphere of a Frankenstein film. I'm physically affected by the performance, making it impossible for my mind to be anywhere else.
I've seen so much work by downtown choreographers concerned with making an "honest" and natural performance that I'm so excited to see something exaggerated and distorted. And really, there's nothing more honest than making yourself look ugly. I'd say tEEth should move to New York, but then maybe their work would slip into the mediocrity in which so many New York dance companies have. So, I'll let them stay in Portland as long as they promise to bring their deliciously disgusting "grub" to NY regularly.
Photography by Aaron Busch + Xilia Fay, Coloring and Touchup: Mark Hebert, Tim
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