Every Which Way

This review of Rashaun Michell’s and Silas Riener’s Way In was posted on artforum.com:

Rashaun Mitchell & Silas Riener, Way In, 2013. Performance view, Danspace Project, New York, November 2013. Davison Scandrett, Rashaun Mitchell, Silas Riener, and Claudia La Rocco. Photo: Ian Douglas.

IN A FOUR-WAY “conversation” with his collaborator Silas Riener, dance critic Claudia La Rocco, and lighting designer Davison Scandrett, posted on Bomblog on the eve of Way In’s premiere, choreographer and dancer Rashaun Mitchell said: “I’m always thinking about what’s the way into this and out of this.” What follows are four ways into the piece I went to see at Danspace Project during its brief run, offered up as my way of making sense of it (with a little help from my friends).

The Way of Taste

In a prior incarnation, a site-specific performance and installation at the BFI Gallery in Miami, Way In was titled Taste. La Rocco, writing for the Miami Rail, described that work as a conversation about taste, good and bad. The questions of what’s tasteful and what’s not, and who is the ultimate arbiter of taste remain live in Way In, though the newer work bears little outward resemblance to the previous piece. Way In takes place inside Saint Mark’s Church, its nave enfolded for the occasion within wide bolts of garish pink-laced nylon. The pink lace that bespeaks a camp aesthetic is of a piece with the fluorescent pink envelope containing the press notes, and the highbrow baroque music, from Lully to Rameau, alternating with cheesy Franz Waxman movie scores and Frank Ocean’s “Versace Gold.” The same fabric appears in costumes—including a ski mask worn by Scandrett—designed by Mitchell and Riener, who shun the neutral unitards prescribed by Cunningham, for whom they both danced, for practice clothes or less seemly items. (Eventually, booty shorts decorated with dollar signs.)

The Way of Conversation

Way In is framed as a conversation among “two trained dancers and two untrained ones”—to invoke the first recorded text, conceived as a sort of critical companion to the show, written and read aloud by La Rocco. Would it be more illuminating to view her and Scandrett as “performers” rather than “dancers”? Or is there something in the register of “dancer” that allows us to view their movements with a different vitality? The opening act, which features La Rocco holding up signs of diminishing sizes to the audience (the largest announced the show’s duration, the smallest was a fortune-cookie message) and Scandrett wheeling himself around on a dolly, felt more like a species of “performance art” than anything else in the show. Such comic/absurd interludes—heirs to Cunningham’s Antic Meet (1958) or the vaudevillian juxtapositions of Yvonne Rainer’s The Mind Is a Muscle (1966–68)?—were a counterpoint to the dancing, as well as a palate cleanser. Cast in the awkward/poignant role of participant-observers, La Rocco and Scandrett were also called on to assess and give cues to the dancers (“Cut,” “Stop,” and the like).

The Way of Intimacy

A second recording captures an argument between Mitchell and Riener. Their proxies here are La Rocco and Scandrett, who have known Mitchell and Riener for years, both professionally and personally. The tiff lays bare the ongoing process of negotiation, of give-and-take, involved in their collaborative work and personal life together, presumably. We’re allowed, briefly, a window into their shared intimacy, as collaborators but also partners in life. (One way of reading the title.) At its “core”—that is, in the duets that Mitchell and Riener dance together—Way In is a deeply personal portrait of a relationship, one long past courtship but not beyond yearning. What is held up to the spectator is love at its neediest, most pressing, at once sensuous and tender.

The Way of Quotation, or Inside Jokes

One of the more memorable moments in the duets, when the two dancers remain locked in a carefully composed embrace, may in fact allude to a piece by Sarah Michelson. Whereas the embrace between two men (in that case, Greg Zuccolo and Mike Iveson) who are friends, not lovers, is but a fleeting moment in Daylight, 2005, Mitchell and Riener hold each other for what, on stage, feels like an eternity. That work is also playfully invoked by way of a chorus of lights set up in the church’s chancel, reminiscent of a row of lights, designed by Joe Levasseur, placed in front of the audience in Daylight. Scandrett, who did the lighting for Way In, and whose collaboration with Michelson and Parker Lutz on the visual design for DOGS at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 2006 won him a Bessie award, is simply described as “Joe Levasseur’s roommate,” reflecting Michelson’s own purported fondness for inside jokes. “In order to get at something you go in through the side door,” La Rocco writes in a rehearsal diary included in the press notes. Side doors and inside jokes can be a way in or a way out, depending on your vantage, on your taste.


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