Abigail Levine turns life into performance through a subtle catalogue of utterances, inscriptions, and gestures.
Theo Armstrong, Brooklyn Rail
Theo Armstrong, Brooklyn Rail
Handwriting beneath squares of painted color gradients hang in the gallery. Not yet alive in the lungs, the mouth. Quite a few pages. When language fails, we body forth. Who is we? Audience, dancers, author? Authors? A catalogue of poses, alphabet, reminiscent of uncountable things, references, symbols. Digression. Imaginary plot: place bodies beside bodies and add chairs, fabric, paper, glass bottles, bricks. Turn the page.
Five dancers peel brown paper from the floor vertically by stepping on the paper and holding it as high as their arms will allow. The paper eclipses their faces and bodies after a while. The small ripping-paper ssssssscccccchhhhrhrrrrrrhh stops. The dancers are at the edge of their papers. They take the papers away and lay two strips of rose-patterned fabric on the floor and start making shapes, slowly, with indistinct but intense focus.
Redactions imposes an atmosphere of devotion through measured, unspectacular movement and monotonous textual interludes. Levine juxtaposes images and language to recast gesture as speech, and speech as bricks and glass bottles and susurrating paper. Objects and bodies coexist and elide while words drift through the space like ticker tape.
Levine and Anna Azrieli and Martita Abril stand at microphones, talking over each other gently, buoyed by Paula Matthusen’s spare, luminous music. These are words we recognize, but they’re jumbled and echoing. Kristopher K. Q. Pourzal and Julian Barnett reprise the litany of shapes from the beginning of the piece. Gradual accumulation. Bladed hand resting on folded leg. Chin tucked over clavicle, hand cupping sternum. Torso contracted. We have not been told what these shapes mean but they mean.
The steady repetition and variation here is diaristic: over a span of days, a month, years, common words and phrases make furrows. Muscles contract and lengthen. Traces. Places where chairs stood in unmown grass. Little divots denoting past action, future action. We are trained to speak/hear/see in certain ways. Listening implies a different type of attention.
And the dancers roll on the floor and gather thick glass bottles to their chests like
Chairs in rows. Less like a mirror of the audience and more like a bus. Narrower, and each performer engrossed in a distinct personal drama. A message is relayed. Translated from earbud, listened to on speakerphone, spoken, whispered. Huh. Hm? Uh. Daily trajectory toward/away from understanding. What are we trying to say to each other, if anything?
Inherent humor in some gestures. Inherent tragedy. The noise Abril’s foot makes while balancing on white marley. The noise of Pourzal’s long torso descending into a hinge after hitting the wall. A leg. An arm. Scapula. Ribcage. Azrieli’s pointer finger, hovering just above shoulder height. Barnett’s placid solar plexus. Stasis. Subtle change. What’s the difference?
Barnett and Pourzal approach a stack of bricks. Barnett removes two bricks, one in each hand, and launches towards the white wall.
BbbbbbrbrrrrruuuuuummmmmkkkkkkCLUNK as the bricks skid and slide and hit the wall. Pourzal recreates this action, and after ramming the wall, drapes over Barnett like a heavy cloth, rolling and folding, reaching the ground. They do this again, and again. Remember how a brick sounds, going through a window? Remember how many ways a body can fall?
Red paper gathered like poppies or puddles of blood. Pelvises twisting in rage or lust or just determination to finish one task among many tasks—remember, abstraction—arms crushing, crushing, closing the paper to the center of the body. Closer to the stomach and the heart as if to hide the paper.
As if to swallow it. If we take this as a scene of writing, then the bodies are as articulate as the words on pages affixed to the walls outside the theater. Redactions asks: what is inscribed, read, and unwritten into the space? What have we attended to?
Theo Armstrong for The Brooklyn Rail – July 2022