I went to see Album as part of American Realness. The festival is a platform for new work from subversive artists. Its stated intention is to rewrite the definitions of American dance and performance.
This show begins with Mariana Valencia telling us an anecdote about how Bob Dylan ‘pissed a lot of people off’ by not saying thank you for his Nobel Prize for Literature in a timely fashion. Seated on the floor at the back of the stage, Valencia sets out her stall by suggesting that if she was written into history in that way, she would appreciate it. Then, she sings along to the Joan Baez version of ‘Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright’.
This is a solo performance by a dancer who tells us she is making it so that if, one day, someone writes her history, that they might write it better with these ‘notes’. So, we’re watching an opening of a notebook. She shows her process and tells us what her intention is. She wants to write herself into history (or herstory), and she wants to have a say in how it’s done. The result is an album of images, text, original songs, cover versions and some dancing. She reflects on her past and takes us through a ‘medley of observations’, mostly in non sequiturs, so that the start of each seemingly unrelated section is a punchline in itself.
Her presence is unadorned, she wears simple clothes that give her a child-like quality. She projects a mixture of naivety and a knowingness that can be found in the subtle shifts in her facial expression. Beginning with a reference to Bob Dylan’s (male) privilege, Valencia takes the privilege of having an audience seriously, using humour to draw us in. We are invited to follow her story, however collage-like the structure is. With her director, Valencia has curated the moments with care and finds threads to pull on. Like a series of visual tweets, there is a stop-motion rhythm to her movements. I was interested in her straightened arms and open palms, often out to the audience - either making an offer or asking a question.
I like watching dance when it is something rather than being about something. When Valencia calls it a dance, the audience laugh at what seems to be an intended punchline. But because she is a dancer, I watch her body. Her hands. Her precise movements. Her slow blinks, when she chooses to turn away from the audience and lie on the floor. The movement style is pointed and direct, she moves from each rehearsed position with calm intention. I was looking for another story, something above or below what was being presented.
This is art in the age of hyper-individualism. Valencia doesn’t seem worried about occupying her space in the world. She is conjuring the memory of the people who shaped who she is now, and telling those who might read her story in the future who she was. The proposition of a live dance show set up against a Nobel prize winning author is an interesting one. She seems keenly aware of the impossibility of capturing dance, her movement language gives the audience time to see each position, each image, like we’re looking at a photo album of her body.
The text was at times poetic, but mostly made up of humorous, dry observations - “this is what I look like when I fluff a pillow”. Among the reflections on death, and cultural displacement, she references Twitter, emojis, Cat Power covering Nina Simone. The experience is like gentle little pin-pricks that tickle me a bit, and then subside.
Valencia starts the show by sitting and singing:
“It ain’t no use to sit and wonder why babe,
if you don’t know by now,
And it ain’t no use to sit and wonder why babe,
it’ll never do somehow”.
She suggests that Bob Dylan probably never has to question his status, or his art. Instead of allowing herself to be censored or inhibited, she sings over him. Then she gets up and tells her own story. But, she recognises that we need those who surround us, and those who have come before us to complete the picture of who we are.
Zoe for DRAFF