Insular performances and works so personal they seemed virtually in code dominated the last two programs of the multi-disciplinary "Fataphysical Revue" series at Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions over the weekend.
Indeed, the mere presence of an audience became an invasion of privacy at times--rather like those TV newsclips that show survivors of terrorism or natural disasters in moments of emotional crisis.
"The background sound, everything, it's all part of the show," poet Jack Brewer told us during his reading on Saturday. But as he kept dropping pages of text, picking up one of his dogs, painfully rubbing the head he'd recently injured in an accident or ricocheting from bursts of intensity to virtual catatonia, Brewer's "show" came to outweigh his verse.
And maybe that was the point. But are we so starved for individuality in art that we need this kind of "documentary" of a man's inability to get it together?
Brewer made constant, endearingly ineffectual attempts at audience contact, but Orson Titus-Maquelani simply faced away from his public, closed his eyes and gave it all to the microphone in his own version of a '60s coffeehouse poetry reading on Friday.
Borrowing elements from such black musical forms as blues and scat, Titus-Maquelani's "Coloured Opera 5" presented a collage of fragmentary autobiographical reminiscences in an intimate speech-song style that would have been more effective if heard on LP, CD or cassette. Indeed, some of the most intriguing vocal techniques seemed derived from tape- and film-editing technologies: the rapid, mechanical repetitions of words so they formed a rhythmic pattern within a longer, more linear sequence, for example.
Ann Mavor also sang scat syllables on Friday, but in her case the virtuosity assumed heroic personal implications, because it represented a transformation of her speech impediment into an artistic statement.
Mavor hasn't so much conquered stuttering as embraced it as an inviolate component of her identity. But whatever the sense of liberation she may achieve by performing "Mother Tongue," the rewards for the LACE audience seemed decidedly limited.
To begin with, Mavor adopted the hard-sell, soulless persona of a cheap night-club singer: off-putting in the extreme. And though she attempted to widen the implications of her personal battle by addressing the whole subject of blocked communication, most of her text couldn't be understood. Not, ironically, because of the way she spoke it, but because of the intrusive drum-accompaniment and strident amplification.
If Brewer and Mavor were the cult-of-personality entries in "Fataphysical Revue," Kiken Chin proved as remote and unknowable in his Saturday program as Titus-Maquelani had been the night before.
Formerly a dancer with Kei Takei's company, Chin presented the latest version of "Between," an evolving, exploratory modern dance work he began six years ago.
Self-absorbed more than self-indulgent, Chin continually tested himself in sudden, punishing flying-sprawls and grueling displays of slow-motion control: long passes of walking while bent over, for instance, his face below his knees, his arms extended, with the tilt of his body and hence his balance problems changing incrementally at every step.
Such challenges demonstrated Chin's unsparing commitment as well as the resources of his superbly articulate body. But his quasi-dramatic confrontations with David Koten--the alternations between depictions of pleasure and pain--quickly grew predictable: familiar essays in the Eiko and Koma genre but far below their level of lucid movement metaphor.
Where they (and Takei) design bold kinetic/dramatic structures that hold both innovative movement concepts and deep emotion, Chin seems to be feeling his way toward a form only as yet dimly glimpsed by him and utterly invisible to us. We see him consumed by his dancing, but we're excluded from the experience of it.
Koten moved like an actor rather than a dancer: In matched or parallel passages he seemed focused on tasks, Chin on processes. But Chin's face always stayed a mask while Koten's revealed a moment-by-moment involvement that helped sharpen the work's problematic expressive thrust.