There is something so inherently simple about the deconstruction and even excoriation of an individual’s interior by following passages through rooms in the individuals’ personal space. How a person fills their space with their possessions; how a person uses their movements, consciously and unconsciously, to interact with and interpret themselves within their space; and how a given space or room may be an interpretation or interruption (or both simultaneously) of a person’s sense of self, are seemingly apparent understandings of rooms and spaces. And yet, the multidimensionality of the elocution of self and the traumas the self processes through bodily communication is far more complex than one might anticipate in Corningworks’ most recent production In House.
Intriguingly staged in the annex to the Mattress Factory (and brilliantly and organically incorporating many of the extant art installations), In House is a show which seeks to explore who an individual is when they believe no one is watching them within their space. Again, the premise is one that seems apparent enough—we presume the “dance as if no one is watching” principle (pun perhaps slightly intended given the context) applies to the concept that individuals will function without inhibition in their spaces if they believe they are functioning without scrutiny or external observation. This premise, though, takes on a more complicated dimension when one considers the built-in artifice of watching individuals function as if no one were observing them as a staged performance. And this is perhaps where the unique strength in Corningworks’ production comes from. The unexpected anxiety that is palpable in the audience as we try to situate and assert ourselves as a unit watching simulated uninhibitedness. When we first are led into the show, we observe a man, vulnerable in his boxers, tinkering with a toy house (reminiscent of the one on the cover of the program). We then sit in a room as the aforementioned man (John Gresh) announces how his day has been “crap,” and proceeds to dance nostalgically and address some unseen entity.
This establishes a particular tenor of the piece. Upon being split into two groups, the audience is traipsed through a series of rooms (at simultaneous moments, marvelously manipulating the structure of the rooms in the Mattress Factory) in which the various performers interact with their unique space or unique set pieces in a way that shatters the artifice of the concept of the show and the notion that there are elements of predictability in how individuals interact and coexist with their space and material things. The performances and parallel structures of the individuals brought to life by Gresh and Corningworks’ Creative Director Beth Corning highlight the sense of demolished artifice and the impassioned spontaneity that is inherent to In House. Gresh’s club-kneed, disheveled man who is haunted by some presence—either imagined or real, the audience is left to speculate throughout his soliloquy and performance—moves with brittle poignancy throughout his room, playing music, and seemingly is governed by some sort of nostalgic pulse. Yet as he continues, Gresh moves in such a way which conveys that the space in which he ambles and wobbles wistfully to his favorite rueful song possesses him far more than he possesses it.
Though he attempts to be the arbiter of his memories and belongings and the haunted dimensions of his room, his physical movements and emotions are contorted by the spirit imbuing the space in which he moves. In the next room, the audience watches as Corning, with typical physical transcendence, takes this concept of an unconventional intimacy and relationship with possessions in her agonized dance (of sorts) with a briefcase. Through her breathless choreography, the audience almost uncomfortably (uncomfortable in the most emotionally visceral sense) watches as the woman portrayed by Corning is rent by some compelling force or connection tied to this material object. Corning, through her thrusting and savagely mournful movements, anthropomorphizing the briefcase to make it no longer a prop but an individual as dictated by anxieties and anger and memories as Corning’s woman is. By the end of her performance, the briefcase bears as much intrigue and heartbreak as the woman does, and the audience is left bemused at the beautiful discombobulation of space and meaning that In House is predicated upon.
As the show proceeds through the vignettes in different rooms—two solo performances (featuring the exquisitely gifted Kristin Garbarino and Patricia Petronello)—physical space, sound, and light are all magisterially used and allowed to function with their own vitality in such a way that further illuminates the shared psychosis and subconscious between individuals and their space and things that is problematized by having a present, interactive audience. Most devastatingly raw is Petronello’s performance, in which she, with gorgeous violence I rarely see well-captured in dance or dramaturge, presents the volatile and inversely possessive relationship an individual can have with a space given their unraveling psyche. Though the conclusion of the show leaves some loose ends in terms of narrative and dialogue, the final group vignette combines the unique physical signatures of each performer in such a way that leaves the audience aching to understand the nuances of individuals subversive connections to their rooms or things, and who actually has control of their bodies, their spaces and their thoughts. In House is a striking examination on the disruption of the tropes of space and self, and profoundly suggests the power of innovative, nonconventional dance pieces.
In House holds its final performances this evening at the Mattress Factory Annex. For tickets and more information click here.