Sunday, March 18, 2007

Young the restless

It was pretty fitting that a blizzard hit New York Friday night; walking down 10th Avenue in whiteout conditions added a layer of deep-freeze fun to Ann Liv Young's retelling of Snow White at the Kitchen.

From what I gather, many—including, it would appear, some of her own (now ex) collaborators—think Ann Liv Young is a fraud who's getting press and European grants solely because her shows are in-your-face raunchy. She usually gets reviewed in dance sections but there's relatively little dancing (or what is traditionally thought of as dancing) in the two pieces by her that I've now seen, and it can be very crude, owing more to 1980s music videos and cheerleading routines to Judson or Martha or Twyla or whoever the hell it is NY choreographers look up to these days. The overall aesthetic is rough and amateurish, but you can't tell if this is a deliberate choice executed with canny precision or the result of a certain haplessness on Young's part. Likely, it's a mix of both, which is one of the reasons I like her shows so much.

While Michael, performed at Dance Theater Workshop in 2005, was mondo trailer trash, Snow White is a gonzo-karaoke Twilight of the Fairy Tales. The cast of three—Young, Liz Santoro and Michael Guerrero—already was onstage, wearing eye-shredding white leotards and black ankle-high Reeboks, as we took our seats. Santoro in particular looked as if she was dreading what was about to happen; rarely have I seen so much anxious boredom ooze out of a performer doing strictly nothing.

They started things off by singing along to Michael Jackson's "Smooth Criminal"; the effect was oddly powerful, with Young in particular looking magnetically feral. In another highlight, Snow White (Young) got fucked by the Prince (Santoro, sprouting a dildo attached to her hips with pink duct tape) to the strains of the original version of "Someday My Prince Will Come." At one point, the Prince berated Snow White in French ("You sucked off all the dwarfs, etc."); at another, Young explained her creative process, which seems to mainly involve harshing on her team, "like when I tell Liz she's a dyke with no singing ability. The next day, she's impeccable." The ensemble of three dressed and undressed constantly, going from one hideous getup to another, while Young, clearly in charge, requested water in the middle of a dance, petulantly barked directions and bossed the other two around.

The entire time, Young's expressions ranged from bratty to angry to frustrated to bored to resentful, as if she was pissed off with her own show and couldn't wait for it to end. It didn't matter if she was play-acting or not and it's this ambiguity that's her strength, this confusion that makes her so bewilderingly interesting. Does it matter if we know what's planned or not? Young is very clever at making it all look like a gigantic car crash in progress but she let us in on her self-awareness with a brilliant idea toward the end, when the three performers sang along to a recording session of the vocals to the Beach Boys' "Help Me, Rhonda" complete with studio fuck-ups and interruptions.

Young's choices challenge ours as supposedly hip audience members: Okay, so we've taken an endorsement of junk aesthetics as far as it will go—now what? Cannily, her perpetually angry, perpetually frustrated mix of self-flagellation and self-satisfaction mirrors that of arty, lefty America.

Snow White plays again at the Kitchen on March 21–24. You'll be hard-pressed to find a better way to spend $12 this year.

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