By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
On the Westside, the new head of UCLA Performing Arts, David Sefton, is also shaking things up. Not content to wait until the 2001-2002 season to unveil his programming vision, Sefton slipped in the ambitious five-hour folk-music marathon Hal Wilner’s Harry Smith Project in April, and now, as a post-season apéritif, is bringing the hot young Vancouver, B.C.–based group the Holy Body Tattoo to town next week.
I mean hot in two ways: The Holy Body Tattoo has been getting rave reviews for its brand of relentless head-banging, thrash-burn-and-die choreography everywhere it’s performed, and the dancers work in a “they make me hot” sort of way. I’m not (yet) too old to get off on — er, appreciate — the driving industrial rock score by Jean-Yves Thériault (a.k.a. Blackie of the 1980s Canadian heavy-metal band Vovoid), or identify with the trio of anonymous everypeople lashing out at unseen forces and throwing themselves violently and repeatedly on the ground in the video I previewed.
For the Holy Body Tattoo, pushing the body to extremes is part of a larger investigation of endurance, effort and deterioration that addresses, paradoxically, the tenuousness of the human condition as well as our tenacious will to survive. To date, co–artistic directors and choreographers Noam Gagnon and Dana Gingras have made a total of three pieces since coming together as the Holy Body Tattoo in 1993, all of which are evening-length, multimedia events produced in collaboration with a range of artists. For the piece they will perform at UCLA, our brief eternity (1996), the two are joined by dancer Susan Elliott, and a barrage of visual and aural stimuli has been created out of film, slides and video, with original text by Christopher Halcrow and science-fiction writer William Gibson woven into Thériault’s original score and flashed onto the stage in four languages — all of which assaults the audience, making them work just like the dancers. Ultimately, Gingras said by phone, the piece is a bloodletting, a communal purge: “We can’t escape our mortality, even though technology is pushing us into the illusion that we can. We don’t have the luxury to be conceptual artists in this age. Our goal is to bring it back to the flesh, to ask what does it mean to be a body.”
Speaking from his home in Vancouver, Gagnon told me that performing the piece is like opening a sore: “Once you enter that world, there’s no turning back. It’s a world of no return. It’s actually a great Zen meditation, because if you hold on to your mind, you’ll fall behind, and if you miss one beat, you’re lost.” Gingras concurred, calling the experience “unforgiving.” The piece took the duo nine months to create, then another six months of rehearsal to get it down. Nevertheless, after five years of performing the piece around the world, the two find themselves constantly tweaking it, digging deeper inside to find the human motivation. “Otherwise,” Gagnon insists, “it just becomes aerobics from hell.”
As the title our brief eternity implies, Gagnon and Gingras like to explore the fuzzy gray area betwixt opposites: effort and vulnerability, endurance and surrender, moving forward and losing ground. In Poetry and Apocalypse (1994), the pair landed in a chaotic unstable world where they could find no purchase, save to hold on to each other. In our brief eternity,the trio of dancers is caught in a punishing cycle of perpetual motion, repeating and accumulating movement at an increasing pace until the body becomes a machine, helpless to do anything but go on. A grueling meditation on the hubris of human progress and willpower, the piece physically translates the question “How far can we go as a society?” into “How much can the body endure?” As the momentum builds and the dancers devolve from the superhuman to the abject, the answer seems to be: until there is nothing left.
TWYLA THARP DANCE | Ahmanson Theater at the Music Center | 135 N. Grand Ave., downtown | Thursday–Saturday, June 21–23, 8 p.m.; Sunday, June 24, 3 p.m.
OUR BRIEF ETERNITY | The Holy Body Tattoo | UCLA, Freud Playhouse, 405 Hilgard Ave. | Wednesday–Saturday, June 20–23, 8:30 p.m.