PATRICK O'BRIEN DANCE COLLECTIVE
November 18, 2019
What happens when artists are given the time and support necessary to develop their vision in a sustained, thoughtful, and engaged way? The results are clear, compelling, and way more interesting than the harried and underdeveloped work seen all too often in the NYC dance ecosystem.
Supported by a two-year CUNY Dance Initiative Residency at the La Guardia Performing Arts Center, Patrick O’Brien Dance Collective presented Enough, a searing critique of today’s consumer culture, in an evening-length work that continually confounded while driving home the point that as a society, we must take action to resist the relentless consumerism that often defines our very identity.
The audience was shepherded down a long hallway littered with new clothing and encouraged to pick it up because “it was free.” Soon an actor was accosted by a cop accusing him of stealing, and we witnessed a rough interrogation and denials as we continued to file past them to our seats.
As people settled in, we observed a large backdrop with twelve tv screen projections showing different interrogations about shoplifting, and a very large pile of clothing in the center of the stage. Suddenly we are asked to part with our “free” items and add them to the pile, immediately challenging our ideas about transaction and ownership.
An original electronic sound design by O’Brien and Michel Banabila, with quotes from John Naish, Jean Genet and Abbie Hoffman (with additional musical tracks by various artists) provided an ominous mood throughout the evening, and a very clear and constant message: “Your very identity is a vacuum to be filled… always in need of more…”
The pile of clothes began to move on its own, and eventually one dancer emerged, face covered by a shirt stretched over his head, torso free to move, but the lower body still constrained under the pile of items. He is eventually joined by others, who slink, lurk, lurch, and snatch pieces of clothing from each other with phenomenal attack, dynamism and a fluid contemporary movement that had a look all its own.
From extreme hands and fingers to smooth floor work, the dancers managed the constant struggle with the clothing, at times partnering each other by the sleeves, often pulling a top over their own or their partner’s heads, struggling to free themselves from the material – an apt metaphor for the main idea that was spelled out perhaps too frequently in the voiceover: we are victims of a runaway capitalist consumerism.
A sinister and forbidding Vader-like figure in a large cloak with lights, a large staff, face covered and crowned with spikes, presided over the proceedings, eventually joined by two others that were revealed when the backdrop was lifted and we realized we were actually sitting on the stage, now facing out into the empty house. The cloaked team recruited one dancer as a fourth overseer, and they dance a short pavane asserting their authority over the space.
A large futuristic chandelier made of mirrors and small cameras lowered into the space like an alien spaceship, rotating as the dancers reconvened. The audience was asked to walk onto the stage space, encircle the dancers, then out into the house, to observe the final section, where the dancers finally managed to strip down to bare undergarments, freeing themselves from the restrictive, tight clothing.
O’Brien’s conception and ability to sustain well over an hour and a half of action without losing the spectators’ interest was impressive and matched by the quality and talent of the dancers. Although the ability to deploy effects other than the dancing itself created surprises, in the end it was the choreography itself that most effectively transmitted the consumerist bind we find ourselves in.
In the parting image, four dancers almost naked dancers held hands and danced in a circle, reminiscent of the iconic, playful and hedonistic painting by Matisse, while on the other side, three other dancers were back in their clothes, trapped and unable to free themselves. On which side are you?
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY – Nicole Duffy Robertson