"Oh, the performance has started," Allie Hankins said, interrupting our conversation. She didn't point, gesture, or treat the situation with immediacy, so I turned my head to find Takahiro Yamamoto in the crowd.
NOTHINGBEING's choreographer / "instigator" stood in a throng of masked, golden hour-lit TBA festival attendees. They chatted in little clumps, in the courtyard outside the Annex—the smaller performance hall on PICA's north facing side.
No one seemed to have noticed the performer we were all here to see. If they had, they were being cool about it. A closer look, revealed that Yamamoto—dressed in grey sweats and purple slip-ons—was shifting from foot to foot and moving ever so incrementally backwards.
Hankins and Yamamoto are in the same art collective—described on the playbill as a "support group"—Physical Education, and frequently collaborate with each other and the group's other members, Lu Yim and keyon gaskin, on performances, reading groups, and small festivals—among other things. If there were a throughline to Physical Education members, I would say it's their love of research and the inspiration of everyday movements, but they're all very different performers.
Yamamoto remained unnoticed as festival ushers opened the doors and the audience lined-up to enter. One woman ended up behind him as he wordlessly continued his almost imperceptible backwards shifting.
The First Hilarious Thing
The frustration of the woman standing behind Yamamoto—who thought she was waiting in line to get into the show, when the performer was actually directly in front of her and ever-so-softly shifting backwards—was very hilarious. It lasted longer than you'd imagine, due to the chaos, or her own willingness to let others go first. Eventually she simply moved around him and entered.
While I was in the middle of writing "Where is the performance? Inside the venue or with the performer?" an usher told me to go inside.
While Yamamoto's name is most prominent on the program for NOTHINGBEING, he is first of all credited as "instigator," rather than sole choreographer. He shares physical engagement credits with David Thompson, and Anna Martine Whitehead—who were waiting inside, onstage, and faced away from the crowd. As the audience found seats, Thompson and Whitehead were already shifting backwards, with near-imperceptible slowness.
The Second Hilarious Thing
Eventually the dancers began to close in on the personal space of the front row, which was comprised of people sitting on floor cushions, who found themselves face to face with the backs of Thompson and Whitehead's slowly encroaching legs. I had considered sitting on the floor cushions, and I was both grateful and disappointed to be observing rather than experiencing this conflict.
As the last of the audience trickled into the Annex, Yamamoto entered. Thompson and Whitehead abandoned their front row erosion activities and joined him in the center of the stage. For the next part of the performance, all three danced to techno—moving again at a forced crawl, which matched up curiously with the music's frenetic pace.
Pace is obviously a consideration of NOTHINGBEING. The performers shift backwards like otherworldly ghosts, gyrate to frenetic house, or respond to the molasses-like pulses of large incandescent bulbs, placed around the stage.
Comfort is another theme I drew out of the show. Following the techno, all three dancers writhed in respective single-minded pursuits. Yamamoto thrashed about with a pillow, reminding me of someone I recently saw trying to sleep, on the ground, in the middle of a music festival.
The Third Hilarious Thing
This led to Yamamoto standing with his head turned upwards into a pillow, sighing loudly into it. I would have laughed out loud at every sigh, but it was TBA so we were all being very quiet.
The Fourth Hilarious Thing
The fourth hilarious thing appeared soon after, when Whitehead tore out the contents of a plastic garbage drum and crawled inside—tipping the bin upwards as she did, so that her legs kicked comically in the air. It was graceful and in no way clownish, but still very funny.
The final portion of NOTHINGBEING was separated into three solos of what seemed to be building unease within the respective performers. The solos felt like jazz. Thompson's was particularly beautiful.
Near the end of the 90-minute or so performance, we had some walkouts. So although I enjoyed NOTHINGBEING and have hi-lighted portions I found funny, I wouldn't call it comical or entertaining. It's a work in progress, and a professed "project that investigates ways to embody nothingness and 'being,'" so it's very quiet, slow, has the potential to one day be meditative—if it wants to be.
One Scary Thing
The performance was so quiet, that any movement on the Annex's wood risers audibly creaked through the hall. Sitting in the dark, as we were, I managed to freak myself out, wondering if there was a fourth performer under the risers (!) (!!!). When a couple people crept out near the end, the sound reverberated like extremely embarrassed and sorry construction work.
There's a lot of beauty expressed in NOTHINGBEING, through the gestures and gyrations of the performers. It will be of interest to fans of experimental dance and performance art, but if your Swan Lake friend gets sweaty ten minutes in, go ahead and encourage them to crash out the door.
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