To spark discussion, the Walker invites Twin Cities artists and critics to write reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Here, dance artist and community educator Amal Rogers shares her perspective on Mercurial George by Dana Michel, presented as part of Out There 2018.
I count fewer than 10 people of color in the theater. The lights go out.
A dim spotlight slowly opens downstage left revealing what looks like a large spine but, on second thought more like a workout bench. From the darkness Dana Michel is crawling, contorted. The movement appears labored and practiced. She shortly pauses to itch her ankle with her oversized sneaker. She pairs her sneakers with only white tights, her breasts casually uncovered. As she travels Michel begins to make some small noises. Some sound like visceral reactions to pain or frustration and others like calm everyday sounds: the unconscious things we say when we bump into a door frame. “Uh—oops, okay.” She is trying to do what is unclear. Near the bench there are many black rubbery bags. She is reaching around them and around the bench and we hear something metallic, a teapot. She sits on the teapot and continues to vocalize and reach far into the bags. She is trying. She is a black woman trying hard to do something that is not legible to the viewer. She is taking up time for this task and not letting the audience in on its purpose.
From one of the bags she reveals a microphone. The long cord tangles her and makes her mysterious task more difficult. She is trying. She vocalizes into the microphone, humming and singing, mumbling and self-soothing: “It’s okay, no nope, it’s okay.” Someone in the audience laughs. Michel is reaching into the bag, sometimes with most of her body. She continues to reveal objects; a BBQ poker, a bag of rice, a large piece of ginger. The bag of rice is punctured by the poker and spills over the floor eliciting laughter from other audience members.
More objects revealed from the bag are used to create a small landscape: an aerosol can of air freshener topped with a rubber donkey head, a bottle of lighter fluid with a toy penguin sitting on top, and a small toy devil between the two. The relationship of the objects is unclear, but they are all together, brought in this bag: the things carried.
She turns on a bright work light inside the bag, illuminating herself and casting a large shadow on the wall.
All the while she is vocalizing, humming small words, small songs to herself. When she is quiet, a weight falls, the bleakness of the scene hits. She is struggling in this cold environment.
Large light towers are illuminated upstage.
Michel crawls and puts on a fur coat. In this coat she stands for the first time. She does not appear to need to try so hard now, she steps with ease. She crosses her turned out sneakers over and past each other. The steps repeat but not perfectly. The repetition feeling like a welcome dance. She travels up and down a diagonal saying “push it,” “rewind it.” She is wearing a grey beanie adorned with a life-size picture of her head wearing the same beanie and she is holding a clear plastic garbage bag full of white bread. As triumphant music plays her steps evolve, some on tiptoe, some with a roll of the hips, all with some bounce. The purposes of movement and objects are obscure to the audience but seem to fit Michel’s task. There is no explanation. The movement is pedestrian but with an unknowable disability. She moves sometimes as if distracted and sometimes as if her body is resisting her demand.
There is more here than we can see. She reaches her top half into a blanket bag and emerges with a different hat on. She reveals a two liter bottle of soda, two dresses, and a piece of yellowed foam.
She walks and unzips the door of a tent-like structure center stage. Inside is a podium with a small microphone. She enters and the lights dim. She checks the mic “check check check.” The stage is dark outside the small warm light that illuminates her from the chest up. The energy has changed, the space is transformed. Gone is the cold arena of the outcast. She seems safe in the new light. And, as if she is going to testify to her experience she speaks: “milk, salt, cream, butter, flour”; “come on, milky”; “salt, butter, flour”; “it’s milky”; “push it up”; on and on. The warm light is broken by strobing effect. She continues: “milkshake it up”; “flour, butter, salt”; and their variations. In the strobing light she puts on a wig of locs. The lights go out and a moment later the light from the towers returns and Michel is lying prone outside of the structure. The environment feels stark again. Things change and its like they were never there before, but there they are still on the stage.
She moves to a table then moves that table and sprinkles flour on the floor to knead blue dough. She tosses the dough onto the table and slams her face into it. The dough is soft and alive and in contrast with the other objects, though its blue color is confusing. A recorded version similar to the earlier soundscape begins to play, her voice humming and speaking and singing to herself, now disembodied.
Near one of the light towers she dresses in cream-colored pants and button-down white shirt and wraps her locs up in a white scarf. Her recorded voice is asking, “Are you or are you not a vegetarian?” “What makes you comfortable?” “What do you prefer?” “How do you feel about trying new foods?”
Holding what looks like an inside-out, orange bag from the beauty supply store Ulta, she begins to walk the perimeter. She walks and walks, stretching time. Slowly speeding up, for one moment she looks out into the audience as she walks. It feels exciting. The loud sound of waves or wind plays as she walks. The lights go out and the sound continues, louder. In one rush the sound stops. The sound and the dark are instantly replaced with silence and the house lights.
The crowd seems uncertain; no one claps until Michel walks out onto stage to bow.
Mercurial George creates a mess of emotion whose origins are unclear. Michel tries hard to complete mysterious tasks in a performance that reveals the mundane daily struggle of life on the margins. Michel digs and digs. She reveals object after object until the final stage becomes a monument to her effort. It is not organized or categorized but is instead layers of experience or understanding. Dana Michel bends time to explore the unseeable and makes physical the research of self.