Studio: Winter 2014, REDCAT, March 23, 2014, reviewed by Maia Lee
The sweeping red architectural limbs of the REDCAT theatre ushered in a small audience who hummed with excitement and anticipation. The long history of theatre and its traditions gave in to the setting of something new, something that promised to be refreshing, and dare I say progressive. Maybe it was my own background in theatre that made me keen to the difference in atmosphere, or maybe it was the astonishing amount of young people who were in attendance. I tried to keep from turning in my seat to gawk at actor Danny DeVito, who happened to be in attendance. Guest curators Nick Duran and Anna Oxygen leapt up on stage to introduce the series, a collection of experimental performance works that showcased emerging Los Angeles artists.
Experimental vocalist and contemporary composer Odeya Nini walked in darkness to the center of the stage to perform the first piece, In Transformation: From Uproot to Web. Slow thrums of deep sound that she released from her throat reverberated through the theatre. I marveled at her control and range as she contorted her body to support the sounds, which were almost guttural yet beautiful and nostalgically sad at the same time. She seemed to call across some kind of invisible plane that expanded beyond REDCAT, as if she were calling out to the greater city. The amazing part was how quiet her calls actually were; it was their charge that made them palpable. At the end, balls of string were handed to audience members in the front row, strung back to Nini’s body, wrapped around her form, and returned to the holders. Performer and audience were now physically connected.
After a brief intermission during which a “mandatory survey” was passed around in little wicker baskets, we returned to our seats for playwright Rachel Kauder Nalebuff’s Theater for One and Absolutely One Wretchedly Singular Person. In a white body suit, the performer, Emma Zakes Green, addressed the audience on the outcome of their surveys, engaging us in a humorous shaming of the “lucky” ones who came with a date that night. She invited any “wretchedly singular persons” onto the stage which was strewn with plush pillows for “VIP” seating. She then dedicated the rest of the performance to celebrating their honored “wretched singularity” with dry wit and self-deprecating humor. This piece felt the most theatrical, and at the same time the most audience-engaging and friendly. I laughed. A lot.
The conclusion came from post-conceptual artist and theorist Warren Neidich, whose NSA: USA Sound as Prophesy was an eerie, melodic tour of the interwebs, social media, the concept of privacy, and the activists who combat the unknown forces of darkness who disguise themselves with corporate and political fronts. The backdrop of a computer screen took us into a journey through the Tor network, which grants its users invisibility and anonymity, two traits that are hard to come by in Generation Surveillance. A musical ensemble narrated this schizophrenic romp, in which you couldn’t tell who was being surveilled; the audience, the anonymous user, or the trackers themselves.
Leaving the theater and stepping into the dark LA streets, I felt exhilarated. This group of young artists are faced with a dark and uncertain frontier, just like everyone else. It is a strange and marooning world we are inheriting, and we are still trying to figure out what kind of art best suits the current discourse… or completely rejects it, or neither. It is a comfort to know that artists are not afraid to create work that is honest and self-deprecating, while still being critical and moving. To say the least, it was certainly a breath of fresh air.