Christina Sears-Etter

Preview/Review of Gushue Moving Arts

May 20, 2016


The Auger and the Amateur, A Review

“ How much can we throw into this work and still have it be what it is?”

In April I had the opportunity to experience a recent performance work by Charles Gushue. Charles and I were able to watch the video together and chat about his process.

Presented at University of Michigan’s Duderstadt Video Studio, the full-length performance was in partial fulfillment of Charles’ Master of Fine Arts Degree, and it incorporated seasoned performers, movers from Charles’ class in Performance-Making, and the audience, who were drawn into the performance space from the git-go.

Charles states that the piece has been in development since 2012 and that his cast of performers have been engaged with the work since Sept. 2015. The cast are: Spencer Haney, (dramaturg and sound design) Sadie Lehmker, Paula Modaferri, Robert Daniel Holmes Maynard, and Lena Oren. The piece has taken multiple forms, even showing in the dreary deep winter at the U’s Dance Dept. Offices.

Gushue Moving Arts toured  the work recently to Brooklyn. Performances took place May 6th and 7th at the venerable Triskelion Arts Center

The writer strongly recommends you experience "The Auger and the Amateurs." Whether live, or on video! You won’t want to miss this spicy, sweet and down-to-earth experience. It is complete with glam, romance, stream-of-consciousness rambling, (verbal), virtuosic, sharp and fluid movement, glints of joy and intimacy and valleys of darkness, nearly as deep and dark as a canyon.

The Augur and the Amateurs asks questions and two of those questions are: Who is charge of this space? And, Who is in charge of this dance” a third might be “Who do you love?” and lastly: “Where the hell did the soloist go?” The performance is 40 minutes long and moves along briskly.

Cast was integral in developing the work. Rebecca Gushue, Charles’ partner in life and work, made the costumes. They are both constructed and assembled. The garments (shorts and two tops) treated with bleach, they were layered some of them were jazzy “ one of the dancers has a “disco shirt.” When you see the shirt, you just might want one yourself.

The performance begins with two dancers, one seated (Sadie) and another applying make up (Robert) and the are chatting disjointedly, one to the other.

Are they characters? Are they just performers chatting? The conversation flows from Olivia Newton John to Barry Manilow, to cards, bands and steak dinners. An absurd comedy is sketched out as one performer seems to be in a dressing room and the other is the make-up artist. Then, boom, that illusion is exploded. Audience members are being pulled up onto stage by dancers. They hold their positions obediently.  A surreal feeling is established, jointly, from the stop and go, non-conversation and the people who have been brought up onto the stage. The non-conversation ends with two lines:

“Hopefully everyone will be there. We made it and it will happen.”

“Can you do something for me? When you have a feeling you just gotta follow it.”

And the music begins, pulsing electronic, trendy and fun, full-bass sound, we are pulled into the sense that this is a performance. Robert and Paula begin an energetic, rhythmic and quirky dance that winds around and through the still and observant viewers. The attire, energy and mood of the audience give a frame of reference for the eccentric and vital duet dance. The audience become the beautiful architecture for the choreographed dance segment. Robert and Paula gradually wear down and collapse to the floor. The remaining dancers (plants from Charles’ Introduction to Performance-Making Class at U of M) break out into a unison dance similar to the duet. They could be clubbers and the effect is refreshing and somewhat shocking. 

Gradually they too wear down, and squirm away from each other in a developmental movement pattern, a micro-styled scene, snaking away like worms after a heavy rain. Enter Spencer, who is running pell-mell, grabbing the renegade dancers and trying --in vain--to pull them into “correct” places. A supple smooth-as-velvet trio emerges from the snake pit, toes aloft and subtly suspended in the air. The image fills a breath of silence and is gentle, peaceful and chill.

Two women and one man dancer partnering and play “catch if you can” in a delightful and youthful montage of weighted dance phrases. The dancers continue with a unison segment of axial movement and sliding , self accompanying with breath, floor slaps and accented gestures, such cheek pushing. The dancers make a close kint line facing upstage and Paula peels off to face front, laughing with uproarious abandon. The trio turns and seems a bit aggrieved at Paula’s bizarre cheekiness. This isn’t the first nor the last times the dancers try to contain each other and the idea of dancers holding a “container” for other dancers comes forward.

An interesting thought-provoking moment occurs as the quartet assembles again in a tight line, and an invisible soloist dances in the dark in the front of the stage space. (It turns out to be a sound-trick, the solo was recorded and the audio plays, but no real soloist is dancing.) The dancers make a convincing audience to this moment, in which the Emperor not only is not wearing clothes, but has abandoned the ceremony. Later, a campy musical moment occurs, while an 80’s style rock anthem ensues, catapulting the performs in a kind of dancerly crack-the-whip. The cast stops short and takes over where the song let’s off, singing “please don’t keep me waiting”. They stop abruptly, panting, and peel of their tops, exposing another layer beneath. 

The idea of desperate lovers aching to meet back-stage of a dingy club comes to mind: “Doom Disco” is the next section of this wild ride. A moody dark city feel fills the space, expertly lit by Mary Cole. The dancers begin with expressions of intensity and awkward facial contortions. Mouths open, lips peeling back in a kind of silent growl: here then is “Lina’s Bear.” The partnering that ensues is weighted and gorgeous, full of dynamic changes and subtle slides and surfaces.  The section descends into animalistic gasping and thrusting, as the dancers have a face-off in slow motion, implying sexual pairings, and the throes of physical need. Out of the thrusts and gasps comes a plain yet gentle kind of love song: spoken, and sung:

 “If things are going wrong for you it hurts me too.” 

The dancers proceed into the audience, singing to the seated witnesses. They are asking: “Can I touch your hair? Do you mind if I put my head on your shoulder?” Laying hands on knees,shoulders, laps, cuddly, strange, yet not threatening.

This section goes on for quite a while and brings up the idea of snogging at the movies. No snogging is quite evident. 

While the audience is pre-occupied with this action, Paula in a gltizy top and treated khaki shorts dazzles with a solo replete with grounded physicality and immediacy. She dancers, leaping, turning and moving in and out of the floor to a soundtrack of recorded natural dancers sounds. Her diagonal path is lit strongly and suddenly she is flanked by dancers from the audience, a small crowd of 12. They seems to be blocking her progress or otherwise The various endearments continue: “ Can I put my elbow in your lap? Can we just sit on the floor, here?” The 70s anthem “I want your love” coos us into the partner dance that follows with its silky orchestrations. The cast members expertly guide audience onto the dance floor again. Some vintage club dance from the disco-era spontaneously evolves. It is a rosy burst of pleasure but the scene will turn dark again. Spencer stands alone, moving mostly his face and mouth in an eating/yelling/chewing action, as a woman laughs in the background. Ultimately he is swept into dancing as “I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire” by the Ink Spots accompanies.  Sadie stands alone, lip-synching the spoken solo in the middle of the song.  

Stationary weight shifts, with pants, heavy breathing and raw vocalizations bring the work into its emotional closure.

The performance ends with a surprise, just as you hoped. This talented cast and brilliant choreographer have set up a loaded dance card. Don't miss a chance to interact with this dynamic dance-theatre production.