April 30, 2017
Poor People's TV Room has already begun as the audience enters the theater. Separated spaces fill the stage and are inhabited by the dancers already in motion. Four performers in total, including the creator Okui Okpokwasili, slink over the stage, under blanket, in front of the plastic wall, behind the plastic wall, and posed gracefulliy in a chair. As the soundscape, designed in part by collaborator Peter Born, echos through the theater creating a sensation of unsettling nerves, exacerbated in the moments when the bass is so extreme that each member of the audience feels the sounds deep in their bones.
As the performance continues, the set becomes clear. Downstage left is a spotlight and two chair, used to house conversationalist moments between performers. Upstage right, divided from the chairs by a long cord adorned with one suspended sage light, is a more unique space- a vertical living room. Filmed from above and projected onto a monitor, the setup created the illusion that as the performers seemed to be standing upright on the monitor they were in fact laying on the set.
It was a truly dizzying performance on all accounts. Often people would speak over each other creating unintelligible patterns of words, while across the stage this sideway teleplay continues. Cut through by a plastic sheet, the downstage action is mirrored in the blurry figure just beyond the barrier. The lighting changes the shape of the bodies onstage, casting shadows and moving along with the dancers.
Suspended between the floor and the ceiling, one stagelight is swung around with the bodies towards the end of the piece. No fear of darkness, the piece staccatos through the lighting, unnerving and engrossing the viewer.
Rhythm was also a key component to this work. Heavy footfalls echoed through the empty spaces. Each way of speaking held a cadence unique and intense. The moment in particular was riddled with sharp angular movements, quickly shifting from one way of jutting out arms to another. Each chest was always tight, whether in contraction or release creating a strong insular energy that radiated with each shift of the body.
The angular, decisive movements were reflected in the thematic language. Oprah, breath and usefulness among other ideas kept appearing as people spoke. Always pointed and building towards a greater theme.
Okpokwasili composed and sang some of the musical score and when she did a lightness and air entered into the space. In these moments of lightness, the audience can sink into the performance and see better the dark moments that perforate through the work. A phenomenal evening in a world of it’s own, Okpokwasili has created a work worth viewing.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis