Performance party packs them in at PS 122

By Brian McCormick

Showcase events often weigh heavily in favor of the creators, giving them an opportunity to test out their ideas. However, when the audience is made up of just as many performers, choreographers, producers, and affiliated others as are involved in the making of the show, it becomes more communal event than public performance. Add cheap beer, and you’ve got the perfect conditions for a come-as-you-are holiday carnival.

The Catch series, a “rough and ready” nomadic performance party curated by Jeff Larson and Andrew Dinwiddie, administered by Caleb Hammons, and lit by Zach Brown, has been going on for nearly five years mostly in Williamsburg. This first weekend of two at PS 122 featured performances of Asubtout’s aptly named “The Lady Centaur Show: A Nouveage Fantasy Death Metal Poperetta” each night, along with assorted in-progress, improvisational, and video works.

Friday night’s show opened with Heather Olson’s “Curious awake not possible,” a work in progress slated for premiere in March at Dance Theater Workshop. The duet with Emily Tschiffely with music by James Lo begins in the familiar movement territory of a certain locus of production, though I’d hesitate to call it generic given the performers’ talents — their fingertips communicate volumes. PS 122’s intimate downstairs space is perfect for this experience: every nuanced gesture and facial expression is close up. What makes this particular dance special is the way it creates expectation through unison and mounting discord, and ends with a wonderfully unpredictable image of literally, slipping failure, and return.

Heidi Schreck on the other hand begins strong and loses some power toward the end in her lecture-as-performance. Presented in the guise of a student essay about the constitution she read at American Legion Halls, “What the Constitution Means to Me,” directed by Kip Fagan, educates the audience about the number of amendments (27), and recently amended rights such as women’s suffrage. Referring to the document as “a crucible,” Schreck divines the meaning of the word as “hot bloody mess” and “magic witch’s pot.” It’s a wake up call not only about the erosion of liberties in response to fear, but also about the less than glorious history of the myth that is America.

Karinne Keithley’s immensely funny and brilliantly choreographed stop-frame animation followed. Using distorted audio and one, then two soccer action figures, identical except that one was missing its head, Keithley crafted a highly original piece that was as engaging as any live dance, and as cool as any high-end music video. Watching the muscular plastic forms intertwine, head and limbs a-spinning, was also weirdly homoerotic.

An excerpt of Ivy Baldwin’s “Could be nice” came next, with Lawrence Casella, Mindy Nelson, and Katie Workum performing. Laced with deadpan melodramatic edge, which Nelson uncannily conveys through her subtly raised chin and slightly supercilious eyes, the trio offers intriguing physical interactions. Nelson, who also designed the colorful, ’70s styled costumes, pulls at the faces of the others, and then at her own, in repeated into and out- from motions. Casella and Workum move to the back wall, and slide down to a crouching position, rock their hips, and turn while leaning against the black brick. Nelson joins them, moving in profile like an Egyptian hieroglyph. The others scramble over her, smell her. Workum rides Casella. After more smelling and some kissing, they line up and begin pulsing their elbows back quickly in a hip-hop-like move. The women stop, and Casella continues, saying, “Encourage me.” Nelson goes to him, hugs him, and stops his movement. This repeats twice, until Nelson exits via a door, and the lights go out when Workum shouts after her, “Mindy close the door,” but it’s already shut. Look for the complete work in spring 2008.

After intermission, Asubtout (Eleanor Hullihan and Katy Pyle) performed their “Barbarella”-esque jam as the Lady Centaurs, complete with wigs, red velvet patterned pants, faux fur leg warmers, and blue-crystals affixed to their solar plexi. A singing, dancing, videonic rock fantasy with quite a few horse-derived movement phrases, it’s the ideal platform for the for free expression of imaginary alter egos churned to life by pop culture dreams. Truth be told, Hullihan and Pyle could simply clip their toenails and make it fascinating and funny.

It’s a gift to see their wildly inventive imaginations glimmer through these alternative personae, these super heroine rockers from another galaxy.

Pete Flaherty’s video of handcrafted images masked by shaped of flames and birds played as the audience ushered in, and in the bathroom, for all the beer drinkers, Faye Driscoll’s video “Intimate Stranger” sat on the floor, gazing out from a small monitor, a rectangular pixilated black and white close-up video image of a person’s neck caught in motion.

The series continues this weekend with Laura Stinger, along with Anna Sperber, Dean Moss, Jennifer Monson, Big Dance Theater, Neal Medlyn, Nellie Tinder, Keith Biesack, Keithley, and Dinwiddie. Check CatchSeries.org for complete schedule information.