by Megan Wright
Thank You For Coming: Attendance
Co-presented by Danspace Project, Faye Driscoll Group and PS122′s COIL 2015 Festival
Titles can be deliberately enigmatic or a tacked-on afterthought. In the case of Faye Driscoll’s Thank You For Coming: Attendance, neither holds true. Instead, the title sets out a philosophy of performance predicated on care, community, and attention both demanded and paid. The audience, divested of their winter coats and boots upon entering St. Mark’s Church-in-the-Bowery, sat on the floor in the round. Driscoll’s five performers sang a version of the usual announcements about cellphones and fire exits from a balcony at the front of the church. They then entered through the crowd, mounted a platform at the center of the space, and knotted themselves together with comically strenuous effort. It was an task that invited laughter as much as it displayed an interdependence among the company members, enviable in its complexity and strength, in which no spectator played a part.
That “you/us” arrangement didn’t last long, though. Driscoll herself, wearing a t-shirt, underpants, and construction gloves, slid underneath the platform and efficiently dismantled it into component benches. She issued commands to the audience about how to move out of her way, rearrange, and sit down again in a quiet tone that brooked no confusion, and her few clear explanatory gestures looked like those used by flight attendants or kindergarten teachers. We weren’t yet an integral part of the action, but we were in good, aware hands.
After reseating the audience, Driscoll, her dancers, and a few assistants handed each audience member a small prop (a yellow flower, a piece of gray mesh, a gold shower cap). They then requested that the audience wield said prop in service of a series of speedy madcap sketches that hit on theatrical tropes of human relationships: lovers, enamored or jilted; betrayal and revenge; mischief with unexpected consequences.
The five dancers then re-enacted the same motifs of interpersonal connection in slow motion in a section where they cycled through a set of mime scenes in rhythmic, synchronized twitches. Their time was kept by a guitarist, who held a steady pace and sang the name of every audience member in attendance. It took a long time. To see the scenes again and again, as the list of names we’d heard grew longer and as we waited for our own, raised questions about how many roles we play or see played before we’re named as individuals. To determine a section’s duration by the task of acknowledging each person, rather than through some private system, felt like an exercise in democratic inclusion. And, of course, waiting to hear your own name was a small anticipatory joy.
The final section of the piece had the solemnity and warmth of a ritual. Long strips of gold and gray fabric crossed the space and were raised by pulleys to weave together like an inverted nest. Underneath, the dancers led a circular skipping pattern that gathered up anyone who wanted to join, which ended up being just about everyone. Maybe it was hearing the cold wind blow through the Bowery outside the walls of St. Mark’s, or maybe it was some new year’s spirit, but no one seemed to want to stop.
Megan Wright is currently an ODC Fellow for Hope Mohr Dance as part of Mohr’s artist residency at ODC Theater. Read more of Wright’s writing here.