January 21, 2012

Nameless forest

Photo by Julieta Cervantes

written by John Marcher

Dean Moss' Nameless forest is better experienced than described- a success on multiple levels defying a single interpretation, touching the audience in so many places, it's a work that keeps expanding within the mind long after it's over.

Moss is the former curator of dance and performance at The Kitchen in New York, a guest lecturer at Harvard and Yale, and a guest professor at Hunter College and the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music. The inspiration for his most recent work comes from the sculptural self-portraits of Sungmyung Chun, a Korean artist whose work deals with alienation, identity, and violence. Working together, the two men have transformed Chun's solid and heavy works into a piece of living theater, which incorporates 12 members of the audience into its core of six dancers, ensuring no two performances are ever quite the same.

Taking place under and around an exploded figure based on Chun's work, with its pink neon guts dangling in mid-air at the center of it all, Nameless forest has three parts.

The first begins with a dark stage floor, the dancers and participants seated on opposite ends of the square space. Stephen Vitello's compelling score begins a snarling lion moving through a jungle (or forest), creating a sense of unease and impending violence. The lights come up revealing a man lying face-down at the edge of the floor. He begins to flop across the floor like a limbless creature emerging from the water to make land for the first time. It also looks like a birth, and as soon the initial struggle to emerge is over, others pile upon him like the dead weight and ghosts of ancestors and expectations, smothering and eclipsing him from view. The newly emerged being soon finds himself within recognizable societal situations- uncomfortable, awkward, confusing, ritualistic and soon no longer the center of the audience's attention.

Photo by Paula Court

The second part is an arresting visual and aural cacophony- the being is emerged in a world of alienation, violence and sex, enhanced by Michael Kamber's recordings and images reflecting his experience as a war correspondent.

The last part takes the audience inside the exploded being- the neon guts (by Gandalf  Gavàn) are illuminated, and the participants are revealed in new ways. Reflecting the audience back on itself, Kacie Chang leads them through one of our culture's most banal forms of self-expression (and self absorption) and turns it into something unexpectedly poignant (and in this performance quite funny). Now blurring the line between performance and reality, the fourth wall knocked down (or is it?), coupled with the knowledge that as a member of the audience it could have been you on that floor, Nameless forest concludes on a heady and engaging note.

Photo by Paula Court

The excellent performers at the core of the work are Kacie Chang, Eric Conroe, Aaron Hodges, Pedro Jiménez, DJ McDonald and Sari Nordman, all of whom possess unique identities and express a wide range of physical and dramatic abilities. Moss requires them to give a lot during the show and together they form a fearless and bold troupe.

During a Q & A with Moss and the performers which followed, one commented that after working on the piece for two years, there is now more left out of it than what is currently presented onstage. That leanness and refinement shows- there's nothing in the work that feels redundant or unnecessary, and its remarkable how the core ensemble integrates members from the audience so seamlessly into the performance. Provocative, intelligent and completely engaging, it's definitely worth seeing.

The final performance is tonight at YBCA, which once again has succeeded in presenting something quite extraordinary for Bay Area audiences. Check out their website for upcoming events featuring a broad spectrum of work from contemporary artists across the globe.


A Beast in a Jungle