Theater companies have a special way to refine a piece about to be performed, whether recently written or a rethinking of something from a decade, or centuries, ago. It’s called “previews,” which can last a week or a month. It’s an opportunity for everyone involved to get a sense of what does and does not communicate with an audience. In real time.
For the public it’s a way to jump ahead of the crowd—including critics—at a cheaper ticket and come away with a sense that their presence might actually have helped improve the show. Most dances and performances don’t have this luxury; the budgets are just too tight.
Now comes TRY (officially running now through Sat/20 at Z Space), what its artists call “a queer fantasy of improvised collaboration where body and land meet ancestry and futurity.” Sounds like an elaborate proposal for some theory dissertation? Maybe. For the past year it has been showing in various incarnations online and outdoors and in-person in SF and New York, complete with films that have grown out of the project.
Last Saturday night’s 50-minute show wasn’t called a “preview” but an “In Process” performance. (Therefore this is not a review, but a report.) Did it need a “preview”? Only in the sense of stretching out a divining rod to further guide performers and audience to whatever its final, amorphous form may be.
TRY is a show which carries its driving impetus with a light touch, looking at the weights we all carry, some more so than others. Yes, it’s serious about history, acknowledged or not, and responsibility, individual or collective. Above all TRY is about the imaginative life and its possibilities to create a sense of community—here strongly rooted in queerness. It gives you hope not only for a healthy life of this particular enterprise but for what Ezra Pound so long ago proclaimed: “The artist is the antenna of the race.”
So what can you expect? Some of us may remember that for many years what became Theater Artaud, now Z Space, had been a canning factory that was ultimately reborn as one of the city’s premiere performance spaces. Very little of the huge factory has been altered; probably its biggest asset was enough of a ceiling to install professional lighting equipment. TRY lighting designer GG Torres probably added as much as was already there.
I have seen dozens of performances in this previous steel ruin, both intimate and expansive, but I have never seen it as stunningly beautiful. A movable steel beam supported the silks into which performers entangled themselves. Others tied each other into knots on the corde lisse.
Monica Canilao and Kendra Azul-Iris created an environment with previously used material: painted canvasses on the walls whose energy spilled onto the floor, everyday individually chosen garments enhanced with chest plates inspired by Native American dress. Skirts and tops shimmered with metallic material. On first glance the centerpiece looked like a ceiling-high circular tent, stitched together from silk boudoir wear from the 1920’s. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
The performers—Ishmael Houston-Jones, marking his 70th birthday, jose e. abad, Snowflake Calvert, Keith Hennessy (the work is presented by Hennessey’s Circo Zero), and Kevin O’Connor introduced themselves in terms of their ancestry, once and for all establishing that “diversity” is a complex concept when looked at from an individual’s perspective.
Houston Jones a pioneer of tearing down dance’s limitations by opening it to improvisation, language, and the voices of the previously unheard, had signed on as “deep collaborator” and choreographer. Snowflake Calvert, a Two Spirit of Yaqui, Raramuri, and Tzotzil Mayan heritage, was gentle, but powerful presence, and gave this “queer fantasy” a special aura. She set the evening in motion with the haunting sound of a conch. You can’t miss it as it flows into the music.
As for the rest, as this was an “in process” collaboration, to see it yourself is to join the dance.
TRY runs though Sat/20 at Z Space. More info here.