This one is probably the trickiest one to write because Juliana is the only choreographer at American Realness Festival whom I know personally. I also happen to have studied with her extensively last summer at American Dance Festival and she also happens to be one of my favorite people in the world. I am saying this not because there is a chance she might read this post… well maybe… but my point is that it is impossible for me to stay impartial writing about Adult Documentary. Not that I ever tried to stay impartial with my previous posts nor did I ever attempt to judge a performance anyway, so I don’t know why I keep on going with this rambling. Perhaps I just want to be cocky about knowing her. But perhaps it feels unfair to me that not many other people have the experience that I have with Juliana to be with her work as much as I do, and that similarly, I cannot be with other artists’ works as much as some other few. Isn’t that a very sad event? Especially when I switch role and situate myself as the choreographer. Do people get my work? Do I get my work? Does it matter? If not, what does?
These questions concerning with legibility come up for me because Adult Documentary is a difficult work to watch – this is my first time watching it in person but I have watched the piece twice on video and still, I leave the theatre with as many thoughts and questions as I left her six-week class back in the summer (that is probably an exaggeration but I do want to make a point). The level of abstraction in this work is absolutely insane: bodies, gestures, words, sounds, clothes, even the chairs – they all feel incredibly abstracted. On google, to abstract is to extract or to remove something, which is probably true to a certain extent but for me there is another layer of alteration and experimentation, with not only the thing itself but also with its thing-ness and the web of relationship it is situated within. That is one hell of an abstract sentence that I have just written and it seems impossible to understand – I myself don’t even think I can completely articulate that idea I had. Most people might think then that I am just vomiting words but for me, within that mess of vomit is exactly where meaning lies.
I remember while studying with her, Juliana said she was interested in meaning-making and I was thinking in my head: that is ironic because your works made no sense to me. But slowly over the past few months working on my own piece, I stop equating meaning-making with sense-making; while at the same time, I don’t consider meaning and logic as two separate entities, either. It probably lies somewhere in-between, and not even in between a 2-D spectrum but rather in between a spiral, a broad horizon traversing the fixed space-time coordinate plane of the so-called reality. And it is this place of in-between-ness that I find myself to be within throughout that one hour length of Adult Documentary.
It is a place where “the relationship between form and trauma or the trauma of form” is not only unfolding but is also constantly negotiated, thus giving the piece both a personal and a formal quality. There is somewhat of a narrative underlying the piece – a casual conversation among the performers ruptured by the distortion of certain words, sound and the body, by the manipulation of technique such as repetition or symmetry, which then exposes the plasticity of the relationship between form and content. For instance, the pedophillic moment of the piece where the performers discuss being sexually aroused by children suddenly feels so non-sexual and non-threatening, something that, if articulated in “real life”, would immediately raise the red flag in anyone present. Yet somehow, this moment appears to be so innocuous and accumulate no excess of weight in relation to other parts of the work (until I write this post ironically), appearing to be just another thing that happen. There is still a reaction, but it feels less precedented, less conditioned, something that is less mediated perhaps. The sexual, then, maybe, doesn’t necessarily have to be so sexual in another world, in a tipped-over assemblage???
Do people get her work? Do I get her work? Does she get her work? Does it matter? If not, what does? Perhaps, what I am trying to get at is whether or not abstraction matters. Is there an urgency here? It is a question that is hard to say a convincing yes if I am just put on the spot and to justify the need for abstraction (or to not be put on the spot and write a blog post about it for that matter). Abstraction results in illegibility and illegibility results in inability to communicate, at least with a large population anyway. Does quantity correlate with urgency then? I really hope not.
Images sourced through Juliana May’s website.