First we need a little background: pissed off about the banking collapse and bailout and inspired by the Occupy movement and books like Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine, San Francisco artist Keith Hennessy wanted to create a dance that explored the instable, unsustainable structures and inequalities of the economy (I’d recommend reading the program notes before seeing the show). Ironically, he received more money to create the work than any previous show, so he hired as many artists as he could, many drawn from his San Francisco company, Circo Zero, and several from Portland. Through a highly collaborative improvisational process involving a series of workshops and shared readings on theory and economics, the ensemble arrived at a checklist of 10 things that must happen. But when or how they happen, or what else happens, is entirely a question of the night.
The show was already in progress when the audience entered and crossed the stage to get to the seats, being intercepted by offers of wine and ear plugs (take them), or invited to lie on the floor for “fake healing,” which consisted of anything from getting caressed by the performers long hair to having the contents of their wallets laid out one by one on their supine body. By calling it fake, the show set a disarming tone from the get go, suspending any expectations of what was about to happen and prejudices that we should take anything too seriously.
It’s almost impossible to explain the raw, frenetic craziness that followed, in no small part because so much was going on at once that you couldn’t possible absorb it all (and no doubt what happens tonight and tomorrow will be different). There were acrobatic feats, dance parties, two artists fighting over scraps of gold cloth, and an artist who wet himself. But from this chaotic playground, a number of themes began to arise around support and instability, boom cycles and collapse. It came most vividly and beautifully alive when performers pulled audience members on stage and set them into two human pyramids, their heads hooded in gold sequined clothes, each struggling to stay aloft and finally collapsing into two piles. A stunningly simple image with complexly troubling undertones (Abu Ghraib is just the beginning), its "message" was immediately lampooned by another performer standing in the audience. “This is the part where they build an unstable structure—it’s really obvious,” he said. “The gold [cloth] represents a luxury item, even though it’s really tacky and cheap.”
More than chaos, though, Turbulence is a collective body that’s constantly changing course, with a loose hierarchy that’s often ignored, if not outrightly sabotaged. While the random flow and conflict signifies and emulates the aimlessness and competing interests of our free-market capitalist economy, pulsing underneath is a palpable love between the performers, creating a sense of humanity that perseveres through the chaos, and ultimately overcomes it. And the audience is, sometimes literally, pulled into it, sharing in all the risk, danger, and triumph (in this way, it succeeds where I felt Gutierrez came up short). More than a dance, it’s a modern ritual of sorts—if a very queer one (carrying on as it does in the collaborative queer art collective footsteps of the Cockettes through the cast of Shortbus).
In his moment of commentary (one of the 10 things that must happen), Hennessy said, “on a good day, this is a dance about magic—or a magic dance about the economy.” He then asked the audience if they wanted to do the "Party Scene," which was optional and not on the checklist. After a resounding “yes,” performers rolled out a long strip of Marley vinyl, doused it with water and then champagne, invited the audience to circle round, and then several performers and audience members alike stripped naked and slid, strutted, and frolicked down the slip ‘n slide. People lingered long after the show “ended,” electrified by this queer economy of magic.
Yes, it was an undeniable mess whose sloppiness (and noise and nudity and queerness) will not suit everyone; indeed, several folks walked out. But it was shot through with enough love, entertainment, humor, and intellectual rigor and intention that I hope it will incite most.
Turbulence (a dance about the economy) will continue Wednesday through Friday at 6:30pm at Imago Theater.