“What kind of life do we want to live?”
Review by Brendan McCall
untitled: an exploration of grief
Created & performed by J. Bouey
(stream of live performance)
Part of La MaMa Moves! Festival, curated by Nicky Paraiso
12-23 May 2021
Fourteen months in. Have you ever paused and thought about what we have been through–from the impact of covid-19 on our health, professions, and communities, to the continued police brutality against Black and brown people; from misinformation and confusion over simple facts, to an insurrection against the nation´s Capitol in the name of the Big Lie. Sadly, stresses continue to plague our global society with alarming normalcy, from tighter voter restrictions to a new conflict between Israel-Palestine, from violence against Asian-Americans to the India´s staggering lack of resources to combat coronavirus.
How has all of this this affected our mental health? Our bodies? How do we move forward?
J. Bouey´s piece, untitled: an exploration of grief, invites viewers to participate in these questions, to reflect along with them during a performance which was live-streamed from the downstairs theater of La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club on Friday, 14 May, as part of their annual festival for dance, La MaMa Moves!, curated by Nicky Paraiso. Just as New York City begins opening up many businesses before we have even reached 50% vaccination rate, this year´s festival is a hybrid of dance films and streams for live performances.
The piece opens with J. seated, cross-legged, guiding the audience through a simple kind of guided meditation focused on breath. One advantage of this evening´s live-stream format is that the camera´s POV permitted us to close in on J.´s body, creating a far more intimate viewing experience than would be possible in the theater (although, at times, it was challenging to hear his soothing speaking voice, as he was not wearing a body mic).
After striking the edge of a meditation bowl, J. asks, “What kind of a life do we want to live?” As they answer in an elliptical, seemingly stream-of-conscious string of thoughts, J. simultaneously uses various props familiar to any dancer to massage their back, their legs, their neck. They emphasize the connective tissue of fascia as the individual body´s “first responders”, and encourages a metaphorical parallel to our collective body. The fascia connects all of our muscles with one another, as well as with the surface of our skin; just like our human nation, right? Aren´t we all connected?
The bulk of untitled: an exploration of grief is sharing time and space with J. It´s a bold act, having the performance be, essentially, J. stretching and listening to music and sharing some of their thoughts. However, by sustaining the boldness of this artistic choice for the duration of the piece reminds me of the “small dance” of Steve Paxton, or John Cage´s 4´33. Those pieces challenged what we think of as music and dance, but removing sound and movement from what we expect from the form. If there we witness J. “only” talking and resting, are they still “doing” something? Is this still a performance?
In untitled: an exploration of grief we witness J. Bouey take the time to rest, leading by example how each of us may prioritize or value rest, and to do it with purpose and intention. As things start to open up again, J. encourages each of us to take the time to explore not only what kind of life we want to live, but how we can live that life harmoniously, together.