Monday, January 25, 2010

Two More PuSh Reviews: Jerk and poetics: a ballet brut

I haven't kept up, but I went through a phase where I read everything by Dennis Cooper, the American author who writes brilliantly affectless prose about alienated gay punks and the predatory older men--often serial killers and rapists--to whom they're attracted. Cooper's work is so powerful and disturbing in part because you're never quite sure if the dark nihilistic plots he writes about actually take place, so elaborately framed is the narration (see, for example, the photographic hoax at the heart of Cooper's best-known work, Frisk).

I was reminded of this stylistic quirk of Cooper's as I sat in a starkly lit studio space in VIVO on Main Street last Sunday to take in the final performance of Jerk at this year's PuSh Festival. Jerk, a novel by Cooper that I haven't read, is actually based on real-life events, told from the point of view of David Brooks, the younger accomplice of Texas serial killer Dean Corll, who was convicted of killing more than 25 teenage boys in the early 1970s. Still, Gisèle Vienne's arresting dramatic adaptation of the novel, created in collaboration with Cooper (text and dramaturgy), and performer Jonathan Capdevielle, makes effective use of its own hyper-theatrical framing techniques. Indeed, the play's central conceit is that we in the audience take on the role of a psychology class visiting Brooks in prison, who then proceeds to tell us his story in two parts, and by various aesthetic means. First we are given a bit of text to read. Then Capdevielle, playing Brooks, performs a puppet play of what we've just read. Then, while Capdevielle momentarily exits the stage, there's a longer text to read. When Capdevielle returns he eschews puppetry for ventriloquism, doing a series of characters' voices in a bravura performance that is as eery as it is captivating.

An excavation of the recesses of Brooks' psyche, the oral/aural effect is to plant some of that horror in our own heads. After an emotionally eviscerating 55 minutes, you could hear a pin drop, so gripped was the audience by what it had just witnessed.

Last night it was to the Roundhouse to see the premiere of Nature Theatre of Oklahoma's poetics: a ballet brut. Reminiscent of The Show Must Go On (down to employing a cast of local performers for parts of the piece, several of whom were also in The Show's cast), poetics is both a deconstruction and reconstruction of dance. Directly soliciting the audience's involvement on numerous occasions, and with an engaging main cast of performers who have no formal dance training (Anne Gridley, Robert M. Johanson, Fletcher Liegerot, and Elisabeth Cooper), poetics demonstrates how a repertoire of movement can be built, piece by piece, on an ever-expanding series of pedestrian gestures (combing one's hair, offering a greeting of affection, tossing in one's sleep). The structure of the piece is also based on a steady accretion of revelations, which to disclose here would ruin the show for those who haven't yet seen it. Suffice to say that the work will make you look at classical ballet--and the pop culture contributions of Men without Hats--in entirely new ways.


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