Anna Oxygen Works it Out
-posted by Patrick Alan Coleman
I like the Works space this year, even though it does lack some of that high-end, DIY charm, which has been the hallmark of its previous incarnations. What works at the Works, located in (or is that inhabiting?) the Wonder Ballroom, is the visibility and capacity, optimized by a stage that can easily support larger acts. But what the Works has yet to conquer is the separation of those who Taylor Mac refers to as “Catty Chatties,” and those who are genuinely interested in watching what’s happening on stage.
But last night, Anna Oxygen’s high contrast, ultra-dimensional, projection pieces, managed to lull the decompressing Works crowd into wide-eyed submission. At least while she was on stage.
Pray for the Sasquatch Band. The fuzzy-headed, old-timey pungent of Sasquatch (pungent being the term for a group of Sasquatch, as in: I saw a pungent of Sasquatch traipse through the clearing), meant to keep everyone engaged between Oxygen’s pieces, was roundly ignored by the audience- with the exception of one fellow who stood in front of them, slapping his knee and playing tambourine without any discernable rhythm whatsoever. I guess if you’re a Sasquatch, being unacknowledged is all part of the game. After all, they are incredibly difficult to spot in the woods. But I had no idea Sasquatches are nearly impossible to hear when they play music in a club. Stealthy.
Each time the lights dimmed, the large Works crowd, who apparently did not believe in Sasquatches, would quiet down for another visual gem from Oxygen.
The first two pieces of Oxygen’s show were completely entrancing. Her projections created an intense, forced perspective placing Anna Oxygen in mountain vistas, cold planets, impossible computers, and glimmering cities. Like a monochromatic Michael Gondry video come to life. Comparable to Charlotte Vanden Eynde and Kurt Vandendriessche’s, Map Me, Oxygen’s work creates an illusory sense of depth and motion on flat and static backgrounds. The amount of timing and choreography to pull these visions off must be astounding. In a way, her work is as much magic show as it is performance. The line is particular difficult to draw here because the central visual conceit, borders on gimmick.
The problem is that Oxygen’s work is a bit uneven. Yes, the visual artistry is superb, but it is not matched by lyrics and music that sound a bit juvenile. It’s as if Oxygen’s script is reaching for the profound but can’t escape juvenilia. “Am I in your dream? Or are you in mine?” This question, asked in the third of Oxygen’s performances, Final Space, has been asked a million times. If only it had been asked differently this time. Make no mistake that Anna Oxygen has a lovely voice, it’s just that her songs sound like something that might have been written by Nina Hagen or Lori Andersen in their pre-teens.
During the performance, and the interludes by the invisible Sasquatch band, I found myself wondering what would happen if Anna Oxygen were given a full theater, with fly loft and stage crew to create a seamless show from beginning to end. I suspect that an audience might be too mesmerized by the spectacle to notice the lyrics of Oxygen’s songs.
It was interesting, in a kind of deconstructionist (constructionist?) way, to watch Anna Oxygen’s crew set up for the next piece, aligning the projectors and setting the stage. But I would have had a much better time, had the show been seamless. It’s possible that the Works is simply not appropriate for Oxygen’s show. Either way, I’d like to see Anna Oxygen perform again a year or two from now, in a theater that will allow her to find rhythm. I suspect with time her songs will be able to match the artistic prowess of her visual spectacle.