JENNIFER MONSON AND YVONNE MEIER
at Randolph Street Gallery
November 8 and 9
I remember deciding to eat honey as a child, just to see how honey tasted by itself. I expected sweetness, but when I ate a spoonful it was so sweet it burned my throat. Honey’s burning sweetness has always been an emblem of childhood for me, of the silly, wild stuff kids do to explore their world.
In their combination of dance and performance art Jennifer Monson and Yvonne Meier seem to keep returning to their childhood. What they do looks like terrific fun: splashing in buckets of water, doing cartwheels and wheelbarrows, pouring honey all over themselves.
But I grew bored with their work quickly, just as I grew bored with show-offs when I was a kid. Perhaps it’s just me. I was a bookish little boy who had more fun reading about history than doing gross-out stuff like seeing how many bottles of Pepsi I could drink without barfing. But perhaps it’s just them.
The most extravagant gestures came in the two solos choreographed by Meier. The first, performed by Monson, starts with the wild clanging of a gong in the dark, like a ten-year-old on a sugar buzz. As the lights come up we see dented aluminum pie plates skim across the floor, as if Monson were skipping stones across a lake. She pulls a toy on a string to the back of the stage, where later she briefly saws on a tree limb. Monson does some good nonstop dancing, including a sequence of barrel turns and dives into the ground from a crouch. Unfortunately the other images are so vivid that they overshadow the dance.
After a quieter section with a hunched Monson crawling forward with her hands over her heart, she takes six plastic honey dispensers in the shape of bears out of a box. She dreamily plays with them as if they were dolls, having one bear kiss another. Ecstatically squeezing the container, she squirts honey all over the floor, then all over herself. She stops when she’s covered with honey and mashes it slowly into her quilted overalls. Getting up, she puts pot lids on her feet, hooking her middle toes under the handles, and dances a campy tap routine to the 3 Mustafa’s pastiche of Balkan music.
Throughout this solo Monson has the dreamy air of a lonely child doing what the other kids tell her to do, hoping to be accepted. When Meier strides in carrying buckets of water, it becomes clear that she’s the leader of this little kids’ gang.
The solo Meier performed herself was more fun and less humiliating. The slow belly dancing that begins it is again upstaged by performance-art elements. Most memorable is Meier stepping rapidly back and forth into buckets filled with water, like a football player practicing his footwork by stepping in tires. Meier then throws off her overshirt, soaked by the splashing water, and throws herself into wild head gyrations, like a headstrong girl in a tantrum. As the gyrations slowed and ended, I briefly saw a girl with hurt feelings, too full of life for her parents to handle. Then the disobedient girl pours white powder out of the statue of a cat, making a big mess that the gallery proprietors have to mop up.
Most of Monson and Meier’s duet Eldorado is horsing around with Astor Piazzolla’s tango music. They dash to the back wall and dash forward again, squeal as they slide to the floor as if sliding into home plate, and foot wrestle. Though not very musical, the movement is gutsy and energetic, with good partnering between the women. Off-center spins slide into the floor, and a leg lifted in parallel arabesque becomes the impetus for another spin. Running in circles turns into a chase–Meier leaps onto Monson’s back and rides her for a few moments. The movement is loose and swinging, with many moves that look as if they might have been discovered during contact improvisation.
Monson and Meier’s return to childhood gives their work its best and worst qualities. They are daring and enthusiastic but immature. And they don’t seem to know what they want to say. Maybe they don’t want to say anything, maybe they simply want to keep the burning sweetness of childhood alive.