photo by Paula Court
On Thursday evening, I joined members of the Performance Club at the Chocolate Factory in Long Island City to see “(re)DEVELOP (death valley)”, a video and performance installation created by Brian Rogers, the theater’s co-founder and artistic director. I’ll share some thoughts here, but I’d like to direct everyone to the discussion going on at the Performance Club blog, which is maintained by the club’s fearless leader, Claudia La Rocco. Although we discussed the work at a post-performance gathering, several other people and I have shared opinions in the comments section of Claudia’s post. In fact, Brian Rogers even threw in his two cents.
“(re)DEVELOP” stems from an interest in gentrification and Rogers’ own experience living and working in Long Island City. The piece does not follow a narrative, but rather weaves together real-time video projections, spoken word, subtle movement, and found footage of ghost towns that address the idea of space – abandoned or inhabited, shared or independent, physical or emotional. Suspended, movable plastic panels separate the audience from the four performers while also serving as projection screens. They provide a layered, multidimensional feeling to the intimate space that often forces the audience to peer through the panels in order to see the performers. Although initially outsiders, the audience is more welcomed as the panels are gradually removed.
Jumbles of spoken word, ever-so-slight movement, and screeching sounds – either from the moving panels or the haunting sound design by Rogers and Chris Peck – accumulate throughout the piece, often challenging the audience to decipher who is speaking or moving. Nothing feels permanent. The space and its inhabitants are constantly changing, and the piece itself wanders a bit as it shows this ongoing transformation. Yet certain moments stand out: Sheila Lewandowski stands between two panels while repeating a delicate hand gesture, as if she were stroking a child’s head. It is mesmerizing. In the closing scene, the four performers sit down around a table for a pasta dinner. Here, Rogers has created a sensory experience – the aroma of garlic and tomato sauce, the site of steam rising from a pot, and the pleasant murmur from the performers as Rogers sings and plays guitar all contribute to the feeling of home. But the meal is broken up by a leaky roof, emphasizing the link between house and home. When the physical structure fails, the community within suffers. Physical and emotional spaces go hand in hand.
Check out the discussion at the Performance Club blog, and feel free to add your voice. The club has upcoming events in March and is open to anyone and everyone. Learn more about it at Claudia’s blog.