Dance Review: Faye Driscoll — Dull Deconstruction

Faye Driscoll’s muddled version of taking artifice apart is far too familiar; we’ve done it all before, seen it more than once.

Thank You for Coming: Play. Choreography and text: Faye Driscoll in collaboration with the performers, staged at the Institute of Contemporary Art Boston on October 21.

Performers Sean Donovan, Alicia Ohs, Brandon Washington, Paul Singh. Photo:

Performers Sean Donovan, Alicia Ohs, Brandon Washington, Paul Singh. Photo: Julieta Cervantes

By Mary Paula Hunter

After we entered the auditorium at the ICA we were led to the stage, forced to sit on the floor in our good concert-going clothes, asked to don costumes and then required to fill out cards that were supposed to explain what was missing in our lives. We then rehearsed our lines in small choruses. It was pretty clear we were in for a heavy dose of deconstruction, a dismembering of conventional performance practices. Trust me I told my companion, I’ve been here before.

And that familiarity was the central problem with Thank You for Coming: Play, Faye Driscoll’s muddled version of taking artifice apart; we’ve done it all before, seen it more than once. Sadly, this version fell short of doing anything new, adding nothing to the post-modern canon of tearing apart the idea of performance, exposing the innards of aesthetic illusion, as it were.

The evening’s most rewarding moment came when we were allowed to sit in the ICA’s comfy auditorium. The worst was a ‘remedial’ mime section — the writing was wince worthy. And then there was the ending, staged in total darkness, when Driscoll (her part in the ‘controlled’ chaos is to show up in her everyday clothes, sometimes appearing on stage, sometimes in the audience. The BIG idea: the grand puppeteer is just like you and me. Except that she didn’t pay for her ticket, though I assume she was paid to put on the show). She read all of the cards we filled out, a monotonous exercise that was neither illuminating nor powerfully absurd. The point here is that this kind of ‘conceptual’ dance fails more often than not because it depends for its success on serendipity — the material isn’t honed or shaped during prolonged rehearsals. The director/choreographer relieves performers of the necessary ritual of bringing a critical sensibility to the material. Someone might have noted that a boring ending is a really bad ending. But the cards would not be filled in and ready to go during rehearsal. The sole intent seems to be to engage audience members, to make their words part of the performance.

To be fair, the second section of show, when the dancers flailed, pounced, screamed, and tore about recklessly, proved to be entertaining though not very enlightening. You could concentrate on frenzy of the activity and ignore the obscure political intention to comment on the breakup of community (Trump?). An easy target, but Driscoll staged the mayhem with a light touch. The man behind me laughed throughout; then he and everyone else fell quiet — for what felt like an eternity.

Mary Paula Hunter lives in Providence, RI. She’s the 2014 Pell Award Winner for service to the Arts in RI. She is a choreographer and a writer who creates and performs her own text-based movement pieces.

1 Comment

  1. Barbara McAlister on September 27, 2019 at 3:52 pm

    Hi Ms. Hunter,

    I appreciate that you come from a wealth of experience with and exposure to deconstructionist style performances. I’m sorry if the weight of so much experience has worn you out and dulled your interest in work of that nature. To say “we’ve done it all before, seen it more than once” presumes every audience member shares your breadth and depth of mind. I thought similarly once upon a time. Then I moved to a new part of the country and realized the vast majority of people I encountered had no way to make sense of the idea post-modern dance, much less its canon or even its substance.

    Something to consider holding in mind is that, from generation to generation, as we recycle many of the same ideas, art makers and their audiences come into knew understandings of these same concepts by way of the making and experiencing process. There will ever be new audiences and new artists but always the same concepts more or less. Some artists will treat them with more ingenuity, others less so. Nonetheless, it is valuable – no, it is necessary – that the explorations go on interminably, be they prodigious or elementary in your definition. Some audiences may not yet be aware in a way that would make them receptive to a work that you might define as original and revitalizing.

    Personally, I found the piece’s energy, engagement, and frenetic chaos refreshing when I saw it at Jacob’s Pillow in 2018. The dance ethos I have spent the last few years surrounded by was no longer interesting enough for my own curiosity. Like you, I get tired of what I am exposed to most often. It’s a kink in the reality of life in the arts.

    Anyhow, as a Ph.D friend of mine likes to say, “Don’t leave your curiosity in the closet. You haven’t seen it all until you’re dead!” There is so much yet to be appreciated out there. I hope you find new eyes and new interest.

    Kind regards,
    Barbara McAlister

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