Early Morning Opera & Preparation for the Obsolescence of the Y Chromosome: Two very different performances filled one stage with a shared topic told using some similar and strange strategies.

Sorta the same:
▪    Tech-savvy-licious sets: The opera’s neon lighting is a transformer that the performers turn from ceiling, to diagram, to cage, to floor plan, to dance partner. The backdrop of the Y Chromosome is an elaborately built out web domain.
▪    Stories of personal loss told through the lens of something other than the personal: Lars used state surveillance practices from world war 2 to the present, Michelle used scientific research in genetics.
▪    Both stylistically resist much overt emotion, even seeming glib as they build their sideways approaches to grief.

MichelleEllsworth_01_event                  LarsJan_hero

Rather different:
▪    The characters in Lars’ show stay cool and unfazed in their glowing white suits, whereas Michelle warmly bumbles around in her charming neurotic persona bumping into herself and and revealing that the pattern on her dress is a bar code sending secret love notes to any scanners that might be watching.
▪    Michelle only reveals in the last moments that personal loss has motivated her whole project, and while for some audience members that admission created empathy and explained her anxious obsessive behavior, for me it narrowed down the scope of the show from a broader reflection on gender to the artist’s individual experience of loss.
▪    With Lars we learn near the beginning that the show will be an exploration of a somewhat complicated relationship with a missing father, even though rarely was emotion the mode of communication. Yet as the story built it fleshed out this one incidence of death and opened up to be a mediation on the lasting impact of political trauma and an unsettling critique of contemporary surveillance society.

Both were a pleasure to watch. I loved witnessing Michelle’s jittery, sweet, barely keeping it together way of being in charge, even if I left feeling the show was a little deflated by the its turn toward her private loss. While I was interested throughout Lars’ show, it left me somewhat unaffected until the conclusion.  At that point the intimacy and distance between father and son was fused through animations made of the father’s body through MRI imaging found after his death. The weight of their unresolvable relationship crescendoed into something greater through mingling those cold, intimate images with the performers chants on our chances for whether the world is becoming a better place.  Their loud static-y voices echo:  worse, worse, worse.

- Ariana Jacob