Six degrees of Bob Dylan…
Bob Dylan featured in the other show in American Realness that I wrote about for DRAFF recently. Then I saw Relational Stalinism – The Musical by Michael Portnoy. That is Portnoy in the video linked above, dancing beside Bob Dylan with ‘Soy Bomb’ written on his chest. I thought it was a good introduction to his work. This artist is a prankster, a satirist of popular culture and high art culture, and he’s very entertaining.
The ‘musical’ he has presented as part of American Realness isn’t really a musical in the traditional sense. It’s a durational piece of performance dance art that was originally presented in a gallery, and then transposed to the theatre. Michael Portnoy is a dancer, choreographer, performance artist and comedian. These categorisations may not be important, but I found the transposition of this show from its original context interesting. Leading a group of exceptional dancers, the author divides the audience into two groups: visual art people and theatre people. This alienates and sets up the idea of the artist against the audience. It sets up the exercise in the show of placing things against one another. Language against movement, sense against nonsense, power and submission.
In the eight episodes, the cast, including the artist, are dressed in what Michael Portnoy might call ‘abstracted skeleton suits’, with his tongue in his cheek. They look wacky, sophisticated, not out of place in a downtown theatre. However, they have been brought to Abrons Arts Centre by an artist determined to fuck with everyone who’s ever had a high brow thought about art, politics or philosophy. The tone is of a prolonged prank, executed with controlled abandon. He’s not afraid to bore, he’s not afraid to alienate, he’s not afraid of art for art's sake. By way of introduction, he tells us he’s got ‘interdisciplinary reflux’, as if even the use of that word gives him a pain in the stomach. We are warned not to look for too much meaning or take anything at face value.
I liked the way the piece looked in the theatre (as opposed to a gallery). The individual rhythm and energy around the body of each of the performers was highlighted in their solos against the black curtains and white floor. The episodic form took on a narrative of its own because of the static audience – I could follow the attention shifts, disdain, boredom and delight that surfaced from people watching an unchanging exercise.
Each of Portnoy’s company of dancers had a peculiar way of moving, each was given a solo, sufficiently bizarre to showcase the oddness of their bodies. One highlight for me was Keyna Nara’s twisted jive while talking about something to do with an An(al) Lee(k).
This show threatens to alienate if you are not an academically engaged consumer of conceptual art. But the quality of the performers, the brilliance of some of the imagery, and the author’s commitment to the cause makes it fun and irreverent enough for Bob Dylan fans to enjoy all over again. Seek out this artist’s work if it comes to your town.
Zoe for DRAFF