Childhood Play as Wild as She Remembers
In November, HERE Arts Center artist–in–residence Faye Driscoll presented 837 Venice Boulevard, a 59-minute dance theater piece inspired by the raw emotions of childhood and the often violent relations that erupt from child play. For this piece, Driscoll transformed the stage into an imaginary playroom in which three characters push, shove, and rub each other through frenetic dances and wild routines.
Dispensing with linear narrative, Driscoll introduced us to the simultaneously brutal and caring relations of three characters: Celia, the bossy “princess” with strong controlling impulses; Niki, the aspiring martial arts master who all too readily puts on a tough act; and Michael, the flamboyant mascara wearing “queen” who repeatedly experiments with his own sexuality by rubbing and kissing Celia. Through them, Driscoll expertly explored the reckless and tentative energy of childhood: in the bodies of these three adult performers we see the insecurity of young people pushing boundaries for the first time, while always checking in with their audience to get feedback on their actions. Eyes darting left and right in self-conscious awareness, Celia, Niki, and Michael manipulated one another like puppets, exposed each other’s frailties, and got lost in their own fantasies and quarrels, sometimes appearing oblivious to their onlookers.
With references to Care Bears, Cabbage Patch Dolls, and other 1980s pop culture icons, 837 Venice Boulevard speaks directly to the childhood of the dancers on stage, who are all in their early twenties, giving the piece a strong autobiographical feel. In an interview about the show transcribed on the evening’s program, Driscoll explained: “I wanted to look at my childhood. Not the story of ‘this happened to me,’ ‘these were my friends,’ ‘these are the weird games we played,’ but more the emotional landscape: the feeling of loneliness, of being loved, and the silliness of fantasy.” Indeed, in the piece we witness a wide range of emotions: from mad giggling and hysterical laughter to unstoppable sobbing, furious screaming, and determined silences. In a memorable moment, for instance, Celia goes into a terrible tirade against her two friends, which climaxes in the screamed articulation of every child’s biggest fear: “Nobody wants you!” These overwhelming emotions surface on the bodies of the performers with fierce relentlessness, evoking vivid images of childhood.
While for the most part the piece clearly synthesizes elements of childhood, the overall rhythm of 837 Venice Boulevard contrasts the frenetic and youthful energy of the piece: most of the scenes in the piece last much longer than the credible attention span of a child (and sometimes the attention span of an audience member). Luckily, Driscoll throws in humorous relief, so that even when a scene has gone on for too long, the audience is refreshed by the unexpected expression on a dancer’s face or the off-hand comment that makes the moment ridiculous. For instance, early in the piece, Niki’s insistent and somewhat mechanical circling of her hips, which feels more like a difficult exercise than a seamless dance, is unpredictably appreciated by Celia, who shares her awe with an honest “Wow, Niki!”
Driscoll’s 837 Venice Boulevard deals very specifically with identity and the challenges of relating to one another as children and as adults—this is at once the strength and the main limit of the piece. As Driscoll explains, this is a self-exploratory work, in which we can observe the choreographer making sense of some of the emotions and experiences that define childhood in her perspective. Overall, the piece makes for an entertaining hour, and the dancers in particular should be commended for the endurance with which they sustain the wild and intense energy of the performance.
Barbareschi is an MA student at NYU. pursuing experimental performance and dance.
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