No one coughed, no candy wrappers were opened, and nary a cell phone disturbed Romeo Castellucci and Societas Raffaello Sanzio’s Hey Girl! on the McGuire Stage at the Walker Art Center last night.
The nearly full house was engrossed in the many enigmatic images that passed before our eyes through the course of the performance; a female body slowly emerged from primordial goo; words flashed across a screen so swiftly they could just barely be perceived; a pack of men inflicted an aggressive beating on our anonymous heroine that could be seen only in strangely beautiful bursts of flashing florescent light; the white heroine whose story was on display sold the black heroine who joined her onstage into chains; the skin of the black heroine was painted silver as she stood brandishing a mirror and sword over a stage covered in broken glass.
4-D art is work created in any media that incorporates time. Hey Girl! is one of the loveliest works of post-modern performance art that I have ever seen and an exquisite example of a truly multi-dimensional work of art. In addition to playing through time Hey Girl! also plays with the notion that there are multiple truths’ in history. Nothing felt fixed or absolute in this piece. Movements and images were presented and then repeated in new contexts where meanings were revised.
The piece quotes elements of classical and modern performance. For example, text from the balcony scene in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet was projected above the parts of the performance and the white heroine looked like a re-invented Joan of Arc while draped in a flag and brandishing a sword. There were certainly strains of narrative, I watched a white woman be born’ and make her way through this strange, surreal world. I watched black woman appear on the scene in this world, be stripped to her skin and chained. But this show was not like a tragedy of star-crossed lovers in which I could find catharsis or even a beginning, middle or end. Identities shifted, power was revealed and reassigned.
While watching the piece, I felt the girl’ in the piece was not a universal representation of every human. As soon as I saw her be complicit in the oppression of a woman of another race, I realized she was a person with a class that was complex and sometimes changing. The two virtuosic female performers, Silvia Cost and Sonia Beltran Napoles, were more like modernist symbolic figures than characters. Castellucci took many familiar elements and ideas, like words, bodies, mirrors, swords, etc.out of familiar contexts and repositioned them in a new, brutally poetic combination.
Toward the end of the piece, a sharp, pencil thin point of light shone on the head one of the two women in the show like a laser beam. Hey Girl! hit my brain in a similar way. I was completely enthralled, I watched the piece with razor sharp focus while it played before me and thought of nothing else. And, since walking out of the theater, my brain has been wrestling and processing the content of the show and trying to figure out what it means to me. I’ve been thinking about men and women, history, slavery, loneliness, connection, violence and art. In short, the performance passed what a friend of mine calls the butt test’ and the brain test’ with flying colors; meaning I sat in rapt attention through the piece (my but was still) and after it finished my brain recalled the intriguing images clearly and I wanted to re/examine what I saw voraciously.