After enduring Trajal Harrell’s Antigone Sr./Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at the Judson Church at REDCAT on April 3rd, I felt gutted, empty and sad. I was nauseous for being reminded of our human condition; trapped as opposites and the same; responsible for each other, connected by atomic fibers as symbiotic memes. Going into the black box, I wanted to pretend I knew nothing about Mr. Harrell’s creative intentions.
But NOOOO, in case you didn’t get a program from the cardboard box in the shadows at the door, Harrell felt the need to explain the Antigone/Harlem Balls/downtown pedestrian theater connections prior to the start of the performance and apologized(part of the piece?) that the lighting designer was in Belgium and that there might be mistakes despite the stand in lighting designer from Brest being present. I wanted an authentic, non-insider art viewing experience without the tropes of meaning nor histories. I was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
What Trajal taught me is that my urge for the truly idiosyncratic, authentic experience is futile if popular culture is involved. And the merging of populous and academic is where Harrell finds the most fertile ground in Antigone… as our unconscious desires for assimilation and knowledge associations are exposed. The “We Are” sequence proves just that; taking us through a rhythmic, spoken delivery of foiled cohorts from Beyonce and Solange to Guattari and Deleuze. The audience laughed and then consequently fell silent when more political and monumentally, tragic memories (Twin Towers) were vocalized. The name game exposed an insecure desire to auto insert the work into the academic, performance art canon by reminding us of every nostalgic, ironic, funny, tragic, pop and historically relevant iconic and metaphoric HOUSE that may have ran through Harrell’s mind as akin and provocative.
Since there was no original, composed music score, there is a fresh & casual I’m in Trajal’s living room or playlist vibe as the laptop traveled from stage left to center/right stage and back again throughout the 2 plus hours. Then there was the onslaught of put your hands together, competitive New York and Vienna clapped louder for themselves than you are L.A. so you are failing at the game. It was at that moment that I really became turned off because I suddenly felt like I was in church. I resist organized, group, worship moments. I was content to watch the dancers have their dervish episodes on the isolated, white islands front stage because I could sense their skills as dancers. But, don’t try to make me participate in some fake ritual of religion REALNESS. Yes, I am reserved. No public display of personally affected and sarcastic ecstasy please.
Antigone Sr./Twenty Looks or Paris Is Burning at the Judson Church is a performance collage, scissor cutting through time to the present where Harrell wants everyone to have a unified, together experience. I felt alien as a conscientious, cynical, history objector. However, my favorite parts were the from totally black space, painfully slow upfades to dimly spot lit bodies swirling and twirling to barely audible audio that sounded a million miles away. These sequences I am guessing were the Judson nods but I’m not interested in knowing for sure because those sequences felt separated from reference. All those 50’s-70’s downtown Manhattan performances and uptown Harlem Balls seem so removed from my current existence. While they are important to remember, I don’t know what mashing them together with Antigone accomplishes other than prancing, rhyming, thumping, superficial vacancy and erasure to a clean slate. I hope Trajal Harrell moves forward for his next project, away from the postmodern past and channels his authentic and REAL talent to make something his own.