Founded in 2006 by director and choreographer Austin McCormick, Company XIV has developed a signature fusion of theater, classical and modern dance, opera, drag, circus, live music, burlesque, and performance art. The title of its latest creation, Paris, is a double entendre of sorts—referring at once to the beloved City of Light as well as the legendary prince of Troy. Indeed, Paris unites Grecian gods and goddesses with Parisian flâneurs and can-can girls, resulting in an indulgent, adults-only revue of sublime talent.
With a flash of bright light and a bone-rattling buzz, Youarenowhere begins with an assault on the senses. The show's creator and star, Andrew Schneider, enters the performance space seeming as disoriented as his audience. He tries to find his feet in reality, but this is no small task, since a taut thread of existential anxiety may be the only thing holding Youarenowhere together. Will this hypermediated anxiety destroy Schneider? Will it destroy us all? Where are we, anyway? The answer, of course, is Youarenowhere. Schneider's intermedial mashup avoids letting the audience get comfortable in any genre, morphing from an existential diatribe into a TED Talk on metaphysics. From there, it becomes a magic show and an experimental dance piece. The accelerated and indeterminate nature of Youarenowhere could not succeed without its seamless choreography of sound, lighting and tech cues. This design is expertly executed by the show's crew: technical director Karl Franklin Allen, light/video supervisor Daniel Jackson, sound supervisor Bobby McElver and stage manager Alessandra Calabi. Consider the work of these technicians a remedy for theatergoers who haven't had their breath taken away in a long time.
The hyper-technological and multi-genre performance art style Schneider draws from is not entirely new, and he certainly cites his sources. Indeed, the citational nature of network technology—with its wikis and file sharing and retweeting—creates many opportunities for reference within performance. Considering the breakneck pace at which most of Youarenowhere progresses, it's impossible to catch all the references or to pursue each philosophical abyss opened up by Schneider in his tweaky, nervous manner. Schneider splices songs by Rihanna and Robyn in with classical music and an especially touching rendition of Ricky Nelson's "Lonesome Town," awash in cobalt blue.
For followers of The Wooster Group, the influence of Schneider's seven years of membership in that company will be readily apparent. In one sequence, a video projection of a young Schneider (at a filmed audition) ghosts the present-day Schneider. He recites a monologue with his past self with hardly a flaw. The "hardly" should be emphasized here since it is the ever-diminishing distinction between man and machine that inspires the technological and choreographic design of this moment. There is more philosophical exploration to be done on this subject, however, in the script of the play.
Though the sound, lighting and tech design of Youarenowhere formally performs the ever-present tension between (and fusion of) technology and humanity, this is precisely where the written script falls short. There exists a lacuna between Schneider's buggy, technologically mediated physicality and the words he actually says. Schneider lectures us on metaphysics and love, but he doesn't offer much tangible insight into the effects of technology and the Internet on the human experiences of love, loss and addiction. Youarenowhere's only missing piece is its reluctance to verbally process the very difficult and very daunting possibility that we are becoming machines and that machines are becoming us. Again, Schneider physically performs this tension, but his monologues tend to skirt the issue.
Schneider muses that "we exist in each other's realities. But maybe not in the way that we think that we do." When theater succeeds in calling upon us to question the very nature of our existence, it is worth seeing. It seems prudent to forewarn sensitive audiences of the bright light and loud sound in Youarenowhere. Furthermore, people with a history of anxiety or panic attacks should take note of the show's intense pacing and content. That being said, Youarenowhere could be extremely cathartic for the anxious, the lovelorn and the grieving. In provoking both awe and intense existential questioning, Youarenowhere (somehow) simultaneously satisfies one's inner child and cynic. It should not be missed.
Youarenowhere runs until April 3 at 3LD Art & Technology Center (80 Greenwich St. between Edgar and Rector Sts.) in the Financial District. Tickets range from $15-$35 and are available here or by calling 3LD Art & Technology Center at 212-645-0374.
Third Rail Projects has a rich production history of placing its audiences on the cusp of collaborative theater. Its dancer-actors are the clicking wheels of a larger machine; they are not themselves the stars of the show, but let an almost spiritual illusion take over that billing. In the long-running hit Then She Fell, experiential theater transcends all of its normal bounds to create just that illusion. The production, which is written, directed, designed and choreographed by Zach Morris, Tom Pearson and Jennine Willett, is a haunting take on Lewis Carroll's book "Through the Looking-Glass," and it derives every last morsel of dark lyricism from its source material.
Immersive performance experiences usually toe the blurry line between smashing through the fourth wall and discomfiting the audience with its intimacy. But when onlookers can cling to the familiarity of a tried and true theme, a delightful complacency settles in, and expectations tend to plateau. In director/choreographer/creator Mary John Frank's production of Debutaunt, five Southern belles conduct their coming-of-age rituals through an “interactive dance-based experience” complete with forehead-to-floor bows and book-balancing posture exercises.