Upon entering St. Mark’s Church on 10th St & 2nd Ave, you find yourself immediately thrust into a workspace for creating art. The entire floor is covered in dance marley with temporary seating arranged in the round. It gives the impression that you could easily be sitting in on a rehearsal, a fly on the wall, an observer to the creative process. One by one, three dancers each step out from the backstage area and calmly walk across the room, seating themselves on the steps at the front. Once they’ve assembled, your attention is directed towards the other end of the room, where visual artist Jonathan Allen (a Columbia University alum!) has rolled out a large wooden panel on wheels, covered it in canvas, and begun stapling the canvas in place with a loud and violent staple gun.
Once the canvas is sufficiently stapled down, he begins to lay out various timers. We get a few of them going until a cell phone alarm goes off, and lighting cues shift our attention back to the dancers. This is the jarring and unconventional introduction we get for Kimberly Bartosik’s piece i like penises: a little something in 24 acts at the Danspace Project. From this point on, we see the performers all go back and forth between varying modes of performance.
Sometimes one of the dancers performs choreography on his/her own. Sometimes there are two. Often, the choreography is interrupted with a tableau, a presentation–nearly a bow–that seems to beg for applause, as the dancer makes eye contact with various members of the audience. These moments are quite personal, and effectively remind the audience of the human factor involved in making art. Looking closer at each tableau, we frequently notice how unstable the placement of the dancers’ feet happens to be during these frozen moments. It’s as if Bartosik is pointing at the fragility and instability in the performer’s heart when asking for applause or recognition. At times, the dancers are mumbling words to themselves. A mix of French and English, most of what I could decipher pertained to training or improving at something. Upon closer inspection of the program, we find that much of the text was taken from judge commentary from the popular television show So You Think You Can Dance. The placement of this text in the show provides an interesting perspective on how American culture has come to view art forms like dance.
Another one of the “modes” taken on by the performers at times involves these huge bags filled with items purchased at a dollar store. The dancers each have their own bag. They go from frantically tossing the contents at each other, while cacophonously explaining why they thought each item was an important or appropriate gift, to hoarding their own piles, mumbling about why it’s important to stuff all these things into their shirts. Overlapping explanations with emphatic, almost violent gifting create a chaotic din as each of the dancers try to get rid of their trinkets, while simultaneously hoarding the pile of junk being gifted to them. It feels almost as if each dancer represents a voice in the artist’s head, coming up with countless ideas and justifications for the junk cluttering his mind. The cloud of uses and interpretations of these cheap random gifts proves nearly impossible to decipher and channel into something understandable.
The third mode between which the performers switch back and forth is centered around the canvas. The audience’s focus is shifted to the visual artist as he slathers it with different brightly-colored glues & paints. He rolls the canvas around the stage, affixing wallpaper & other cheap materials to the piece, often including dollar store items given by the dancers. From time to time, the dancers interact with him further, handing him junk, walking on the canvas, or acting out contrived notions in his head. As the show goes on, he seems increasingly frustrated, trying many different types of glue while struggling to find the right item to add to the piece.
In interviews, Kimberly Bartosik has mentioned having words and phrases in her head, that she expresses in the language of movement. I actually think that’s the perfect way to describe the choreographic style I witnessed at this show. The movement was so specific and complex, it seemed to have meticulously-chosen words to each phrase. It didn’t just feel like an overarching mood or emotion. These motions had syntax and nuance. Joanna Kotze, Marc Mann, and Edmond Russo gave life to these movement sentences through their expertly-executed virtuosic performances. All three dancers showed incredible skill and talent while embodying these choreographic phrases. The sheer skill it takes to redirect momentum in the abrupt and innovative ways the piece calls for actually serves a purpose in itself. It reminds the audience that the madness inside the head of the creating artist is often a finely-trained madness. It is a madness that eloquently touts eccentricities in the vocabulary of the medium being used.
The show closes with the canvas being detached from the wooden panel and worn around Joanna Kotze’s shoulders, almost like a cloak or a blanket, the art providing a sort of shelter or refuge for the voices in the artist’s head.
Overall, I was very impressed with the piece. Kimberly Bartosik’s i like penises: a little something in 24 acts is truly a piece of collaborative art. The nature of creating a piece of visual art in conjunction with dance that ruminates on the concept of creating is delightfully layered, and I always find it pleasurable to see different forms of art interacting and influencing each other. We see commonalities between media arise, and we see each medium influenced by the differences between them.
Columbia University Arts Initiative