Several states across the country have passed or are trying to pass anti-Transgender legislation and in 2021 alone, more than 57 transgender or gender non-conforming people lost their lives due to violent means. This was after 2020 was said to have been the worse year for such fatalities. In their press release for transgender artist Cassils’s latest work Human Measure, which I attended at Roy and Edna Disney CalArts Theater (REDCAT) on Thursday, October 13, 2022, it asks: “How do we manifest empowerment, sensuality, and self-actualization in a society that actively tries to erase us?” This question is far too broad to answer in one single work, but Cassils definitely captures one’s attention and causes him/her/them to look head on at the subject.
Human Measure can not be classified as just dance or theater. It is a work of art that encompass several mediums: dance, theater, art, music, multi-media and performance art. It is a piece that, although tedious at times, will not let go of one’s attention. The extraordinary lighting by Christopher Kuhl places one inside a photographer’s dark room and causes one to look through the lens of the transgender community and those on the outside. Five massive flashes like flashbulbs from an old camera, briefly blind the audience and like those old flashbulbs, they left behind an image that only slowly dissipated.
The work opens with a six bodies barely visible lying on the floor. As the red hued lighting begins to increase, but never to full intensity, these six nude or almost nude performers rise, collect into a line at a slow pace that brought to mind the famous Japanese performance artists Eiko and Koma. The rich but drone-like electronic score by composer and media artist Kadet Kuhne greatly enhances the sense of personal and communal loneliness experienced by many members of the LGBT+ community. In addition to the sometimes metallic droning of Kuhne’s music, they add in a long single human moan which suggests extreme sadness or longing.
Although primarily pedestrian, the movement choreographed by Los Angeles based Jasmine Albuquerque is intensely poignant for the subject matter. Though uncomplicated, no gestures or groupings were wasted or excessive; clearly representing the sense of isolation, anger, fear, comradery, acceptance and yes, hope through actions that were purely human. The one section that came close to being defined as dance, was when the performers walked across the stage moving through a single shaft of light, leaving behind or collecting a lone figure that expressed an emotion through movement. It was a clear reference to loneliness felt within a crowd as a result of feeling “different.”
The final section of Human Measures unfolded extremely slowly. The performers untapped a piece of the stage covering – which I later found out was muslin, rolled it up, and brought in rigging to attach to the muslin. Flowing from an unseen source, water filled the now trough-shaped material and as the performers seemed to be massaging the surface below it. After a lengthy time, a very subtle light cue occurred and the flooring was raised by those onstage to review a large canvas with fifteen or so body silhouettes imprinted on it; a piece of artwork that Cassils says “reinterprets” the 1960s Anthropometries paintings of French artist Yves Klein. This is made clearer as the “painting” is back lit with blue light. Klein used what is called monochrome abstraction which involves the use of one color over an entire canvas. It became even clearer to me why Cassils wanted to use this color when I read in a description of Klein’s piece titled “Blue Monochrome (1961) at MoMA (Museum of Modern Art) that Klein saw monochrome painting as an “open window to freedom, as the possibility of being immersed in the immeasurable existence of color.”
The program explains that the process used to create this type of painting is called Cyanotype, “a photographic printing process that produces brilliant blue images created through solar exposure and developed in water. It went on to explain that during the summer of 2022, twenty trans and non-binary Los Angeles artists spent hours in the hot sun to help create images that indexes the choreography. Their names are: Nano Arenado, Erika niko barrios, Caleb Craig, Carmina Escobar, Rocket de la Luna, Marsian De Lellis, Aidan Dick, Sakara Fjørn, Mud Howard, Vaughan Larsen, Christina Lujan, Julietta Magaña Pérez, Lio Mehiel, Elliot Musgrave, Sydney Rogers (Miss Barbie Q), Lex Ryan, Sassy, and Alec Stoddard.
The six performers in Human Measures were not only talented but, for me, extraordinarily brave to perform nude in front of a sold out house. They names are: Canyon Carballosa, Kaydence De Mere, B Gosse, Jas Lin, Alucard Mendoza McHaney, and Cassils.
The Creator of Human Measures was Cassils; Choreography by Jasmine Albuquerque; Music Composed by Kadet Kuhne; and Lighting Design by Christopher Kuhl.
The vocalists in the score by Kuhne include: Leslie Allison, Ben Barwick, Lucas Bouk, Caleb Craig, Noah D, Aron Dahl, C Han, Parker Heyford, Sof Kreidstein, Oliver Lyric, Valeria Radchenko, Lou Sheppard, Emma Tome, Tobaron Waxman, Vanessa Wheeler, Socks Whitmore, Sasha Wilde, and Torii Wolf.
To learn more about Cassils, please visit their website.
To find out more about REDCAT, please visit their website.
Written by Jeff Slayton for LA Dance Chronicle.
Featured image: Human Measure at REDCAT – Choreographer: Jasmine Albuquerque. Dancers: Canyon Carballosa, Kaydence De Mere, Cassils, B Gosse, Jas Lin, Alucard Mendoza McHaney. Created by Cassils – Photo by Angel Origgi.