The tiny rooms of Highways Performance Space drew an impressive crowd last Friday for Koryn Ann Wicks, MFA’s “I love you so much, SQUEEZE ME TO DEATH.” The turnout was quite obviously a community effort: beside me, Wicks’ mother whispered, “I think it’s starting,” as dancers entered the room to interact.

Wicks’ work was centered around the ways we lose ourselves loving others—the three featured movers (Robyn O’Dell, Jessie Ryan, Brittany Tran), all women, each assumed a smitten damsel character. Before the set show began, each took their place in the room and mimed a daydream state; you know, the one where the heroine looks far off into the distance and twiddles her thumbs. Projections from old movies played around them, the lead female characters dressed in wedding dresses and caught in sweeping romances. This gendered casting seemed to assert that the lose-yourself-in-loving condition was specific to women, or at least that women were more vulnerable to it. I saw a bit of my naïvely romantic self in each of the performers.

Chris Tyler opened the show in drag, proclaiming the space a private gathering for wives whose husbands partook in masonic ritual. Tyler’s monologue was seamless and fearless, a notable highlight of the evening. His was the only character that never broke focus or intention: a difficult task in such a small room and with audience members so close.

The dancers, on the other hand, had a bit more trouble reconciling their stage training with such a close audience. Each of the three featured performers danced a solo toward a chosen male member of the audience, expressing their somewhat unhealthy attachments in different ways. Each performer made her point, told her story. However, it seemed that they all alternated between engaging with observers and completing choreography. There was interaction with their pedestrian partners, and then there was dancing. The two tasks were never completely integrated. Even eye contact and directed focus felt like it had been instructed in rehearsal, rather than born of a genuine connection.

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Koryn Ann Wicks’ “I love you so much, SQUEEZE ME TO DEATH - Photo courtesy of the artist

The movement was, though not frontal, particularly balletic and classically virtuosic. The dancers were strong technicians, but in step after step, they lost their intention. With a premise so focused on the irreducibly human experience of falling in love, I wanted movements more indicative of humanity, more grounded and emotive. Brief sections with clear gestures illustrated ideas well but were gone before I could fully grasp their weight. With ideology and movement so disconnected, I found myself asking whether Wicks’ thesis even needed to be supplemented with dance.

The score stopped and started abruptly as well, never quite becoming a cohesive part of the music. I almost wondered if the dancers could hear it: each seemed too focused on executing her string of steps to truly listen. A few of the projections displayed live footage of the room, in what seemed to evoke a mirror but never quite connected to the performance at hand.

This showing was Wicks’ first iteration of “I love you so much, SQUEEZE ME TO DEATH,” so there’s room for smoothing wrinkles. She and her cast will set up in the Bootleg Theater in months to come. The work has promise and points to a poignant and deeply personal aspect of love—even with its disjointed composition, it did its job in sparking thoughtful reflection among the audience. Here’s hoping that the next version will deliver with more intention.

Written by Celine Kiner, July 15, 2019

For more information on Highways Performance Space and Gallery, click here.

Featured image: Koryn Ann Wicks’ “I love you so much, SQUEEZE ME TO DEATH” – Photo courtesy of the artist