Flaneur Productions’ short works showcase, Dérive, began with two constraints: a fragment of text—apocalyptic, bizarre—and a location—a windowy room on the top floor of the now-defunct Northwestern Casket Company. You might think this would result in an evening of linked performances (Flaneur apparently did), but the result says more about how different artists use material than about connection between the works.
Vanessa Voskuil can’t touch material without changing it utterly. (Disclosure: Voskuil is a personal friend of mine.) From the moment dancer Robert Haarmon rushed into the darkened room on a blade of light, trailing a cloud of dust, I was in another world. After a spasmodic struggle in near dark cut sometimes with stabbing light, to a soundtrack of industrial scratches and grinds (the work of Ben Siems), Haarmon escaped from most of his clothes and walked calmly through the audience. He pressed the button for the elevator: in the darkness the door dinged and slid open, and the brilliant metal shined like angels as Haarmon stepped in. Meaning? If you can’t state one, you won’t miss it. In Voskuil’s work, image leads sense.
Charles Campbell’s Strange Blind Love is a sketch for a longer work exploring the film Dr. Strangelove, and it feels that way. Material is a junkshop for Campbell to raid. His finds are sometimes strange and sometimes confusing, but they’re all held together by a demented charisma. It doesn’t make sense when Campbell’s bloody-mouthed Strangelove rolls his illuminated wheelchair up to a black light and howls out “We'll Meet Again” on a vacuum cleaner, but it doesn’t matter, either.
The original material’s at its most invisible in Hijack’s Prick and Cellulite. It’s not that the dance duo doesn’t use material—more that the team picks at and embroiders it until it’s utterly changed. I saw majorettes, ballet, sex, ideas about display, and erectile dysfunction; I’m still trying to put it all together. On the surface, though, any audience member can enjoy Hijack’s intricate and constantly moving dance, their high-gear performance, and their sense of humor.
(Elliott Durko Lynch was unable to perform “due to injuries sustained while doing the hustle.” Too bad—I was looking forward to seeing Lynch’s quirky imagination. Besides, anybody who can hustle energetically enough to sprain something is clearly a performer worth seeing.)
Christian Gaylord’s Out of Mind commented on the evening’s idea: four performers groped around, sometimes slipping off blindfolds to tell disconnected, unfinished stories, then wind up clutching one another’s hands, talking ecstatically of the connection they’ve found. The performers spoke with conviction and acted with skill, but the piece suffered from soap opera dialogue (“I can’t go on like this”) and, more seriously, didn't hold together on its own. If the rest of the evening supported the theme of connection in darkness, then Out of Mind would've made more sense.
Sense is not Bedlam Theater’s thing, and Everybody Loves the End of the World, by Bedlam’s John Bueche, is more a loud fantasy on the mystery script’s apocalypse than a developed idea. A fridge and range stripped to their frames, a few madcap rag-flinging moments—something more interesting stirs here. But the piece relies too much on shrieking and idiot repeating, as if Bueche and company expected a grade-school audience.
Overall, Dérive is uneven: some magic, some interest, some tedium. Its laudable ambition for subtle connection isn’t realized, though I hope the organizers will try again. What arises from the evening is a sense of space and time. During the second half of the performance, the windows were unshuttered, and the audience saw sunset over Minneapolis, then dusk, then night. For an evening, this dingy old factory was enlivened by art, and we were part of it.
The showcase continues tonight, tomorrow, and on April 9 and 12-14.