The show was set to begin Sunday evening at 5:00pm. Understandably there can be a wait of ten minutes or so if the house is full and people need to find their seats. There was neither problem at this show and yet we sat until 5:19pm waiting for the show to begin. There was no acknowledgment of this or announcement; the Odyssey Theatre can and has done better.
‘borderline’ is performed by Chie Saito and begins in silence with her sitting facing upstage. At this point the audience has been a full 20 minutes in waiting but at least there was the image of Saito to look upon. Next to her on the floor is a baton positioned from upstage to down a full 12 feet long. It effectively splits the stage in two and we immediately understand the image of a border or borderline, definition: ‘a line marking a border’ (Oxford Dictionary).
The program states that the solo takes place in four parts: ‘Separation, Freedom Within Boundaries, Protection, Oppression within you’. Although Saito makes great visual use of the baton by cautiously approaching it and then gingerly stepping over it, there was no way to know when a section began or ended or indeed what section she was in at all. It could be construed that when she danced on only one side of the baton she was in the ‘Separate’ section. Then expanding her use of the space meant the ‘Freedom Within Boundaries’ section had been reached. Once she picks up the baton and twirls it overhead meant the ‘Protection’ section was in force. And then having split the audience in two halves by interjecting the baton up through the seats she showed the ‘Oppression within you’ as audience right was favored by her, and audience left was frowned upon and disapproved of. Audience right would applaud and cheer receiving accolades while audience left was silent and sullen when receiving scowls. Or not. There really was no way to tell with such vague descriptions of the four parts.
There was lovely movement happening at different points and Saito proved herself an expressive performer with a great range of facial expressions and not a little humor at her disposal. At the end she put the baton on the floor between herself and the audience and then slowly lifted her foot culminating in the predictable ending of stepping forward towards the audience and …Blackout.
The ‘sound surfaces’ by Michael Blendermann were an added pleasure to the piece underlining various movements with greater mystery or import as they occurred.
‘Metal, Plastic, Skin’ performed by Vanessa Hernández Cruz ‘is a three-part experimental solo exploring how vulnerability fatigue impacts Vanessa’s lived experiences as a Disabled Chicana woman’ (Cruz). To say that Cruz is an unapologetically raw, emotional dance artist and Disability Justice activist is not giving her credit for her all too human frustration with life’s inadequacies.
Cruz begins by entering with her walker, whose name, when we visit her website, we learn is ‘Pluto’, and settles on the ground center stage. Lights up and she begins an interesting introduction to the architecture and attributes of ‘Pluto’. She has an iridescent poncho covering her head with a black veil covering her face. She moves and incorporates the walker in a series on the floor that is counter to what it was designed to do. ‘Pluto’ is at once her helper and her enabler, her companion and her guard. And with any guard the constant companionship can grow tiresome. Her frustration becomes evident as she stands and begins to tear her constrictive clothing from her head and face, then she frantically rips the ribbons from her braids letting her hair loosen and fall. This all in a fit of non-conformity to the able-bodied world she inhabits.
All during this there is an automated voice describing various rules and regulations for walkers, wheelchairs and other aids in public spaces, on planes, etc. The litany is unending and at one point becomes humorous in its tireless recitation. The intense frustration that Cruz demonstrates here is entirely understandable and justified. The title of her piece obviously refers to her leg braces made of shiny metal and plastic encasing her skin within. It also deftly describes her relationship to her helpmate ‘Pluto’. Program notes describe her as implementing the Disability Justice framework, Sins Invalid, through her activism as well as her dance work. Ultimately any movement a human can do can be dance, even the batting of an eyelash. Perhaps when there is no more need to differentiate between abled or disabled there will merely be….human.
For more information about Vanessa Hernández Cruz, please visit her website. You can also follow her on Intagram @GalixiesDance.
For more information about The Odyssey Theatre, please visit their website.
Written by Brian Fretté for LA Dance Chronicle.
Featured image: Vanessa Hernández Cruz in ‘Metal, Plastic, Skin’ – Photo by Maya Umemoto Gorman.