Friday, August 22, 2014
YOLO COUNTY NEWS
99 CENTS

An accident waiting to happen …

By
February 21, 2011 |

Rehearsing "Body of Knowledge" are, clockwise from top left, Emily Abrahams, Zack Bernstein, Atali Staffler and Amber Cone. Matthew Dunivan, UC Davis/Courtesy Photo

By Pamela Trokanski

Special to The Enterprise

It could have been science, an experiment in human behavior. It could have been art. It could have been groundbreaking.  It could have been well-done. It could have been some or none of these, but ultimately it failed, for me, as a memorable experience in performance art.

“Body of Knowledge” is a 90- to 120-minute production, directed and choreographed by Karl Frost, who is pursuing a master of fine arts degree in choreography at UC Davis. The program notes that the work “sits in the territory between somatic psychology, experimental theater and human ecology.”

It could have been science. Part of the performance is audience participation in an experiment where we were told we could win money. The dancer in charge of my group told us that data was being collected and that Frost had received a grant to study people’s behavior.

Was this theater or reality? Was it simply a ploy to keep audience members from walking out, as winners were revealed at the end? Was it an experiment in misdirection? Were we participants in a study that was set in the context of viewing an experimental theater piece?

It could have been art. There was contact improvisation, there were spoken dialogues, there were video projections and recorded sound. All the elements of an artistic “happening” were in place.

It could have been groundbreaking, but wasn’t the night I saw it, at least not as performance art. The program notes implied that a rather edgy experience was about to take place, stating that there might be nudity, or adult content. There was a “safe” zone established for any audience member who wasn’t comfortable interacting with performers. (As my friend pointed out, that only served to make her feel that the rest of the space was unsafe, as if dancers might suddenly grab her.)

But ultimately, there was nothing edgy or new in the work. This kind of experimental theater/performance art has easily been around since the 1960s.

It could have been well done, and some of it was. The scenic design by Gian Scarabino turned the theater space into an interesting maze of small performance areas, forcing audience members to pick and choose what they were viewing. The costume design, by Maggie Chan, was variations of white/cream-colored pants and various tops. Simple, yet effective, it identified the performers and provided contrast, for their movement, against the black floor and curtains.

The video and sound designs, by John Zibell and Sharmi Basu, respectively, helped create various environments that helped construct context or serve as foils for the physical and verbal dialogues. Some of the contact improvisation was very good. I saw two exchanges that were breathtaking. Other exchanges, not so much.

A great deal fell short of its potential. The program noted that the performers were “individuals engaged in a process of investigation,” and that they were “less interested in this work as attempt to construct a unified, simple, narrative and more interested in the accident of collage.”

So this became, in my opinion, a crucial element of the work. Improvisation can create wonderful epiphanies of movement and theater, the aforementioned “accidents of collage.” But while all improvisation has structure, there is still a craft to it, and it shouldn’t have an agenda that drives the work.

Unfortunately, there appeared to be an agenda, whether or not it was acknowledged, and that created some clumsy and contrived interactions. There were certainly accidents, but not necessarily ones that made for good theater.

The spoken dialogue didn’t always evolve organically from the physical dialogues, and often seemed stilted and unnatural, perhaps because some of the performers found it challenging to both improvise movement and create coherent dialogues simultaneously. An element of really good improvisation is sensitivity to timing. Some interactions went on way too long, and some never developed to a conclusion.

Someone with less experience in performance art might have found it novel. Someone with a background in behavioral science might have found it a unique way to gather data. Ultimately, for me, it became an “accident waiting to happen,” because there was no real “aha!” moment.

Of course, as an improvisational work, other performances might be more compelling. I saw opening night and only sections of the entire work. Others will certainly have a very different experience. As my companion, previously concerned about possibly being dragged into an improvisation, said, “At least we didn’t run from the building screaming.”

I can’t help but think that if we had, at least it would have been more memorable.

Comments

comments

Special to The Enterprise

  • Recent Posts

  • Enter your email address to subscribe to this newspaper and receive notifications of new articles by email.

  • .

    News

    No easy task: History buffs still trying to save building

    By Dave Ryan | From Page: A1 | Gallery

     
    DHS musicians back from summer in Italy

    By Jeff Hudson | From Page: A1 | Gallery

     
    City to overhaul its sprinkler heads, other water-wasters

    By Dave Ryan | From Page: A1 | Gallery

    Russian aid convoy reaches war-torn Luhansk

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

     
    Davis indecent-exposure suspect pleads no contest

    By Lauren Keene | From Page: A2

    Not-guilty plea entered in Woodland homicide case

    By Lauren Keene | From Page: A2

     
     
    Parents’ Night Out features Vacation Bible School

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

    Afternoon tours of city wetlands resume Sept. 6

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A3 | Gallery

     
    Yolo County golf tournament enters fourth year

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A3

     
    Putah Creek Council appoints new executive director

    By Elizabeth Case | From Page: A3

    Communitywide ice bucket challenge on Sunday

    By Anne Ternus-Bellamy | From Page: A3

     
    Prunes take center stage at last agri-tour of the summer

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

     
    In need of food? Apply for CalFresh

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

    Can you give them a home?

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4 | Gallery

     
    Saylor will meet constituents at Peet’s

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

    Event will unveil mural celebrating food justice

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

     
    Writing couple stops at Davis bookstore

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A5 | Gallery

    Explorit: Final Blast show returns for second year

    By Lisa Justice | From Page: A5

     
    Wolk bill would require reporting of water system leaks

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A5

    Record drought saps California honey production

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A6

     
    World travelers

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A8

     
    Seniors set to stroll through Arboretum

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A9

    .

    Forum

    Weightlifters causing a racket

    By Creators Syndicate | From Page: B5

     
    Tom Meyer cartoon

    By Debbie Davis | From Page: A10

    No support for militarization

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A10

     
    A better use for this vehicle

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A10

    Police are our friends, right?

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A10

     
    Wage plan has a big flaw

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A10

    Bridging the digital divide with computational thinking

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A10

     
    .

    Sports

     
    Watney and McIlroy struggle at start of The Barclays

    By Wire and staff reports | From Page: B1

    Light-hitting Cats fall

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1

     
    Giants win nightcap in Chicago

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

    Watts likes what he’s seen in keen Aggie DB competition

    By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1 | Gallery

     
    Sports briefs: Big West soccer coaches have high hopes for UCD men

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B8 | Gallery

    .

    Features

    .

    Arts

     
    Davis Chinese Film Festival to kick off with 1994 favorite

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A11

    Rock Band campers perform at E Street Plaza

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A11

     
    Natsoulas to host mural conference

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A11

    Yolo Mambo to play free show

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A11

     
    ‘If I Stay’: Existential angst

    By Derrick Bang | From Page: A11

    .

    Business

    Car Care: Teenagers not driving safe cars, study shows

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A6

     
    Car Care: Feeling the summer heat? Your car battery is too

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A7

    Three-wheeled Elio gets closer to going on sale

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A12 | Gallery

     
    .

    Obituaries

    .

    Comics

    Comics: Friday, August 22, 2014

    By Creator | From Page: B6