Late Night Mimosas (size medium)
by Patrick Mueller
January 6, 2012
I saw Trajal Harrell’s solo Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at the Judson Church – (S) in November at Colorado College – an unlikely but very fitting venue for Harrell’s calm, delicate, cerebral performance. A work that collides the Harlem voguing scene and the first explosion of American postmodern dance, Twenty Looks… (S) is just the beginning – the ‘small’ size of a project that will, upon completion, contain a half dozen different works. This first product is gentle, a satisfying mix of the experiential and didactic, effectively fulfilling its basic premise of fashion show-meets-deconstructions (of performance practices, identity, and style). A brief but honest introduction to Harrell, the work’s clean, carefully-considered aesthetics left me with a clear expectation for his further works. – (M)imosa/Twenty Looks…, the ‘medium’ version of the project and part of NYC’s American Realness Festival this week and next, shatters those expectations entirely, and wonderfully.
It starts with a boob dance. Marlene Freitas enters in heels and saggy tights and nothing else, starts into peppy hopping, and then builds to more comical stylings – making funny faces, jiggling and pulling on her breasts, and eventually stopping to explain a growing costume malfunction: “These pants sometimes fall down. I’ll pull them up – later.” She then informs us, “I am Mimosa Ferrara.”
So are they all. Enter François Chaignaud, a transvestite opera singer, for a brief, beautifully heartfelt song about who you can fuck (basically, anyone – but she’s first in line). She, s/he informs us before leaving, is Mimosa Ferrara.
Then a woman-creature enters the stage. Cecilia Bengolea walks in a contorted backbend, dressed in a full-body stocking and pointe-shoe high heels (see The White Stripes’ “Blue Orchid” music video for a visual on the shoes), with only the bright red heels protruding from the fake-skin-tone stocking. Naked under the semi-sheer lycra, except for a large dildo (placed roughly anatomically accurately) and a paper mask of fangs over the mouth – a beast emerging from a horror porno film set – she prowls awkwardly toward Freitas. She slowly domesticates, responding to the dancer’s pet-owner beckoning, and melts into jerky sensuality on the floor. Jerking to her feet, she lets fly a repeating string of curses ending with “I’m so frustrated.” Then she calms and informs us that she, as well (or instead?), is Mimosa Ferrara.
The piece dissects sexuality and allure, methodically but organically, preferring bluntly corporeal excess over coy titillation. By turns delicate, raucous, and hilarious, the performance embraces a full range of gender roles, as well as their mutations and instabilities, particularly focusing on sexualized feminine roles by both men and women. Maintaining a touching honesty within its caricatures and fakeries, the work revels in its mayhems and spins smoothly through its gentler calms.
The work climaxes (with distinct double-entendre) with a black-light dance party, where the performers’ make-up renders their faces baboon-like and the costumes, now the object primarily visible, perform a strange polar switch, revealing in negative the skin that they were previously revealing more directly.
After this there’s a further (overly drawn-out) 45 minutes of wrapping up, as the performers clean up the space and then each of them offers us a moment of “the real Mimosa” in the form of song and/or dance. Although touching, the democratic sharing structure exceeds it’s the time necessary to serve its didactic purpose of further complexifying the question of what is fake and what is the “real” person.
To the end, though, the brilliant structure, strongly owned postmodern (anti-performative) transitions and accents, and generally hilarious spectacle continue to resonate through this closing section, and the experience remains touching, thought-provoking, and artistically impressive.
This work isn’t coming to Colorado anytime soon; but it’s what’s going on right now, and it’s important. It’s just one thing, of course – but its poststructural architecture, its craft that embraces elements far beyond just movement sequences, and its extremely contemporary, self-consciously explicit use of the body label it as an event worth taking note of. Particularly in its aesthetic juxtaposition to Twenty Looks – (S), the work is exciting and impressive in its indication of a visionary artist untied from technique-driven aesthetic binds, clearly coming into his own.
This isn’t the only place contemporary performance is heading; but there’s something vibrant in it that we need to be pursuing, engaging, and celebrating.