Performing on Election Night
Last night, election night, I had the pleasure of participating in the pilot of the GHOST Series, a new presenting series organized by Pascal Rekoert, Associate Artistic Director of Jennifer Muller/The Works and Director of Flexicurve. The series took place at the Gershwin Hotel in Chelsea.
Given that the series coincided with election night, participants were given the option to present works of a political nature. I seized the opportunity to dip into my repertory and perform “Left in the Dust of the Campaign Trail,” a piece choreographed during the 2008 election.
“Left in the Dust of the Campaign Trail,” has two sections. The first is set to an interview with Sarah Palin during which the former Vice Presidential candidate twists and turns in a labyrinth of positions in an attempt to appease both the far-right and moderates with a cut-and-paste position on global warming. The second section is set to “Minor Swing” by Django Reinhardt. Throughout the piece, the dancer is pulled here and there by uncooperative limbs. As the piece progresses, the dancer loses herself as jives, jerks, and jumps pull her about the stage.
The piece was choreographed in response to what I perceived as ‘the absurdity’ of Palin’s candidacy. Despite the dated subject matter, the underlying themes of the piece remained relevant in this election. To me, Palin’s political acrobatics in this interview are representative of a political culture based in pandering. In the United States, the two party system has polarized the country’s parties leaving candidates to make a mad-dash for independents and moderates leading up to elections. “Left in the Dust of the Campaign Trail,” seeks to portray this facet of elections; throughout the piece, the dancer rushes to please and entertain the audience while battling inertia from various body parts that steer her off course.
Given that it was election night, tensions were running high. I had avoided the internet all day, and had even left my New York Times at the door. My hope, was to avoid the election until it was over, I just wanted to know the outcome, the stakes seemed too high, and I couldn’t handle nail biting anymore. The piece I was performing that night was intended to be farcical. During its creation, Obama-fever was at it’s height. The 2008 election was fueled by hope and optimism, and Obama’s campaign seemed to usher in a new era of American politics, one promising, dare I say it, change. Yesterday as I performed, the future course of a country was being determined in a race that was too close for comfort. The optimism of 2008 had been doused in cynicism. The “change” of the last election had been met by staunch opposition from an uncooperative congress, and much of Obama’s presidency was characterized by frustrating gridlock. The closeness of this election brought the divisiveness of contemporary American politics into the open.
In times like these, it becomes harder to laugh. Rehearsing “Left in the Dust of the Campaign Trail” this time round, I often felt a sense of anxiety, like when your telling an inappropriate joke to the wrong audience… Palin, as much as I had disliked her, had never really seemed like much of a threat, Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan were another story. It seemed like real issues were on the line this time round, health care, women’s rights, gay marriage… Was this really the time to make fun of a kookie-phantom from elections past?
I’m not sure I have an answer to that question… In the end the piece was performed and Obama won. I got through my own anxiety that night by connecting to the piece on another level. This election, this political system, demonstrates the need for candidates to impress, connect with, and engage the electorate. On a very basic level, one could describe the the election as demonstrating the very human need to be loved. And maybe that’s the real punchline, that during an election fraught with tough issues, much of the campaigning came down to kissing babies, making promises, and looking presidential.
If your interested, check out the following video of the piece in rehearsal http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V_skQvTD8_4&feature=youtu.be
Unfortunately, this is rehearsal footage, I’m hoping to post video from the performance once I have it.