Everybody show your tEEEEEEth!
Strangely beautiful and surprisingly amusing, tEEth’s Normal and Happy presents a world that could be at its very beginning (think primordial ooze) and/or reemerging post-apocalypse. Survival in this world depends on human contact and strength in numbers. Crude gestures and vocalizations evoke the beginnings of an evolutionary process, while hairless bodies in latex costumes, live video feed, and electronic music provide a more futuristic sensibility.
Normal and Happy incorporates many of the characteristics that pop culture uses to parody contemporary dance. A woman dances inside a latex sheet (think the “performance art” scene in She’s All That). Crude grunting and stomping are a leading component to the choreography. Swimming cap style costumes bring out the obnoxious little boy in me (“teehee…penis!”). At first glance, I want to roll my eyes and scream “stop trying so hard!” at the stage. tEEth, however, manages to quickly use these characteristics with enough purpose and complexity that it works. The entire dance is driven by an honest exploration of basic human needs—touch, friendship, help, affection, struggle, voice, movement. They are thus able to skillfully avoid pretension, both in the choreography and the dancing itself, by maintaining a true commitment to something simple and universal.
The dancers constantly interact, and touch most of the time. It as if the audience is on a journey through another world, periodically encountering a different species, and spending time observing what makes each new creature tick. Several different “species” emerge: the couple in white who touch heads, fit in each others’ curves, and struggle between the impulse to clutch and the impulse to break away; two sisters, kept in a mirrored kaleidoscope, wearing once-pretty dresses constantly discovering each other; a flock of dancers encased completely in white, traveling in unison with slight assertions of individuality; four women (pictured in the catalog) adorned in bubbling rubber foliage, providing some humor with a silly secret handshake routine, inspecting each other, puling their cheeks, always moving in pairs; an older gentleman in an odd white tuxedo; a ghostly young girl tiptoeing around the stage and then dropping into convulsions. All are connected through movements of grasping, breaking free, and squishing up against each other. They assume angular, splayed postures, spread their legs to the audience, and crinkle their toes.
The show is technically complex as well, and tEEth does a great job of using technology in an interesting way without showing off. They’ve set up a mirrored box in the middle of the stage, and it looks like an Exploratorium exhibit. Two girls dance inside it, interacting with each other and their reflections. The mirrors turn simple video projections into a crazy giant kaleidoscope.
At several moments, the audience is made intentionally uncomfortable through loud screeching music, light flashing in their eyes, and zoomed-in projections of yucky, pulsating body creases and skin textures. This helps maintain a tension throughout the piece between complete collapse and remaining on edge. Is this tension similar to the tension between feeling genuinely “normal and happy” and the stress of striving for a normal, happy life? I’m still trying to figure out what to make of the title.
The show does take an ounce of initial audience buy-in, but once I was able to get past pointing out obvious opportunities for dirty jokes I was completely enthralled with its peculiar characters and strange sequences.
Way to represent.
posted Kirsten Collins