Human Rorchach or Psychotic breakdown?
-Posted by P.A. Coleman
I was wholly unprepared for the visceral brain warp of tEEth’s, Normal and Happy. Over the course of the 70-minute performance, my mental state progressed from calm complacency to wide-eyed distress. In short, I found the program visually masterful, brilliantly danced and absolutely disturbing.
Performed around a brilliantly conceived set piece, the company worked through highly physical choreography that seemed locked in trauma and catharsis. It was as if the program had been pried from a wounded subconscious. The inhabitants of the stage seemed not to be human but rather the human-esque specters of memory and distance.
Normal and Happy begins with the Rorschach silhouettes of two dancers, balled up like seeds and doubled in reflection. Their shadows seem to sprout as they reach out with searching limbs. Like a Rorschach test (an archaic series of inkblots used by psychologists to gauge mental stability in their patients, if you are unfamiliar) the audience it left to make its own interpretations on the dark, mutating shapes, moving at center stage. I think this is idea is at the center of Normal and Happy. In its constantly shifting pattern of movement, we may find familiar gestures or expressions that wake memories we have long since buried deep. To this end, many of the dancers are concealed or mutated in costumes that blur the edges of their humanity, turning them into something more like the archetypical psychological hobgoblins that creep through the mind at the edge of sleep. Still, we are aware that they are somehow extensions of us, of our world.
The creatures of Normal and Happy pant, screams, struggle to speak and gag. They paw desperately at one another or promenade in groups with a type of militaristic haughty concern. They express the childish urge to tease and hurt, as well as the adult urge to cling to another person at all costs- no matter how uncomfortable or how much effort it might take.
Normal and Happy is set to sound design that, at times, is traumatically loud and grating. At one point, as a repetitive electronic static, blasted in tandem with a strobe of chaotic video, I felt my pulse rise along with overwhelming urge to find the nearest exit. Luckily these moments are tempered with far more lyrical passages of song. But there is always a tone of warped intensity, as the program digs deep into a kind of psychosis. There is the wet sound of viscera below the momentary squeak of rats, a vision of a woman, face and hair matted with what might be blood gleefully splashing a puddle of gore.
In the end, the dancers appear to return to a kind of gestational goo, singing- “where do we go from here…”
To be honest, I wasn’t sure how to respond to that question myself. As I hurried to leave the theater, my first impulse, upon reaching the night air, was to scream, “Holy Fuck!” However, I kept in and scurried, with furrowed brow, to the next performance.
I am completely willing to accept that six days of performance art, sleep deprivation, too many cigarettes and not enough nutrition may have put created a fragile psychic space not conducive to this performance. Never the less, I expect to be haunted by the images of Normal and Happy for a long, long time.