Austin, Texas, April 12-16, 2017
This year’s Fusebox Festival was as rich and urgent as ever, continuing its smorgasbord of community, activism, and aesthetic in performances of all kinds, this time with a particular inquiry into race and borders (especially the one just 240 miles south of Austin). As a resident of a city rife with festivals, I’ve learned that locals’ experiences of such confabs can be orbital: when we are already at home, home pulls us away from the party, even as home is disrupted by the party. All this is to say that this writeup of Fusebox is not, by any means, representative of all the things; it reflects on only a few perhaps tangential, outskirtly things. Of the other things, many of them were recounted to me as good, wise, and mind-blowing, and although I did not witness them, the fact of their happening is context here, in this record of things that I did witness.
Precision thwarted by the body is won in the things
Antony Hamilton and Alisdair Macindoe’s “Meeting,” Scottish Rite Theater, April 13, 2pm
Choreographer Hamilton and sound artist Macindoe, in black sweats and sneakers, stand surrounded by 64 identical instruments, made of wood blocks and pencils on hinges and connected to wifi, arranged in a circle. The pencils tap out a rhythm on the wooden floor, progressively unveiling a score. The performers, cuckoo-clock characters made of mercury, move their arms and torsos in calculated synchronicity, melting and freezing together; the pencils cohere as a ticker gone berserk, pressurized. Gestalt freight-trained into obsession, and the men began to speak in numbers: one, one, one, oneoneoneone. The body fails to keep up: breath quickens and gets heavier, sweat drips and flies, lips are licked. Language fails, too: if 1 is an equal divisor on a number line, why are some numbers multisyllabic? “El-EV-en,” the men enunciate as they slump to the floor.
As the men tire, the instruments seem to quicken. These objects, having been set in motion by their master, now find us out, tapping out our ghost rhythms, the hammering out of telegraphs and the unwinding of a rotary phone’s dial; this internet of things is a séance (accordingly lit by Bosco Shaw) for the analog. The men slowly, deliberately, move the blocks to new positions; scattered in the space, the objects no longer circumscribe but anchor their own shapes in space. Bells, bowls, boxes, and pipes are gently placed beneath the pencils, giving their tapping a revelatory new range. The men leave. The instruments, looking more and more familiar (are they birds with slender beaks?), continue mapping their symphony.
Small gestures in a big space; or, The light gets in your eyes sometimes
line upon line percussion’s “Potential,” with choreography by Rosalyn Nasky, Mansfield Dam, April 13, 8:15pm
The dam, built between 1937 and 1942 over the Colorado River, to create Lake Austin and prevent flooding downriver, is a 45-minute drive from central Austin. Before dusk sets in the performance site, a hill overlooking the massive dam and the river, is overseen by circling hawks. Lighting designer Natalie George has marked one edge of the grassy space with a line of single lights that pick up where the dam’s orange lights leave off. At dusk, composer-percussionists Adam Bedell, Cullen Faulk, and Matthew Teodori, at a table several yards away from the seating area, switch on their headlamps. Seven dancers, barely visible in T-shirts and trousers, dot the grass, which grades downhill to the dam and the river.
The sounds are small (mallets on small xylophones, blocks, bells) and large (rumblings, shield-like gongs) and, like the lighting, they mingle with their surroundings—water, concrete, traffic noise. A dancer tips forward into the grass, one lace-up boot rising at the end of an attitude begin her. Another repeatedly runs up a section of the hill, lit just enough that the small yellow flowers dotting the grass are visible, and rolls down. The single lights are turned facedown and adjusted: blue to orange to white. Occasionally, a dancer picks one up and walks off into the night with it. They all move further away from us, toward the dam. Nasky, the choreographer, sprints, parallel to the river, until she is out of sight. She reenters the perimeter of the dim light—or of our vision—each time, but not before we have time to wonder whether she will come back, or ever stop.
The woman in a mermaid-skin dress
Beth Gill’s “Catacomb,” the Off Center, April 15, 2pm
It’s internal-external: The title of this quintet suggests inward, subground musings, but its characters, archetypes coded by movement, costuming, and color, could just as well have been the forces of biosphere. On a white floor softened by lighting designer Thomas Dunn’s overlapping horseshoes of soft lavender and amber, two dancers in mustard-colored leggings and tops lay intertwined, slowly sliding against each other to form Rorschach-blotch shapes, knees and elbows akimbo like a single insect, and unwinding again. A woman in white, wearing sneakers, observes. Another woman, in a peach dress of shiny, rubbery fabric that clings to her torso and hangs from her curves, enters the scene, barefoot.
They all—the mustard-colored organism, the woman in white, the woman in the mermaid-skin dress, and, later, a woman in black who appears on the perimeter—explore their collective situation independently. Each has an angle; some are analytical, others sensation-based. Their deliberate pace, invoked in Jon Maniaci’s subterranean soundscape, moderates our heart rates—a welcome effect on a Saturday afternoon.