He, like Lafrance, wants to undermine the performer-observer barrier. He starts by inviting us to return to the lobby, luring us with a platter of chocolates and delivering some state-of-my-life remarks. He then lets us wander around the performing area—a quasi-Beuys environment. We listen to Emmy Lou Harris sing while we examine the objects—stuff like lemons with nightlights plugged into them (a reference to Beuys’s Capri Batterie), a suspended stuffed bear wearing a prison hood and being whipped by Hennessy, a chair, a toy rabbit, three rectangles of pink fabric, et al. The writing on one cloth announces in German that, “The silence of Marcel Duchamp is overrated” (an anti-Dada statement that Beuys made over the radio in 1946).

Blogging about Crotch, Hennessy refers to the brave obstreperousness of Beuys’s artistic vision and discusses Queer Performance (“To perform queer is to embody, shamelessly, the shadows of a culture so colonized it can’t recognize its own losses and failures”). An undefinable sadness clings to Crotch, even though Hennessy chats and jokes with us. He gives three members of the audience control (from their seats) of three cords that cause a plastic sheet to rise from the floor. Talking a mile a minute and writing on the sheet as it ascends, he offers a charmingly manic, chaotically erudite survey of German philosophy and art history that might trace routes to Beuys. Somehow Judith Butler’s name ends up above the Romantics, and Schelling—or was it Novalis?—leads us to contact improvisation via Isadora. Circuitous lines and arrows remake genealogy.

Yet—a startling contrast—he follows this hilarious, bravura performance by helping a stagehand dismantle the sheet and then nailing the two boards from which it hung into a cruciform shape. Balancing this on his head, he walks calmly and carefully along a diagonal path, wavering slightly. A tender, sleepy rendition (on tape) of “Wake up in New York” accompanies him, and as he walks, Hennessy begins to sob.

Noémie Lafrance and spectators in "Home."
Poppy De Villeneuve
Noémie Lafrance and spectators in "Home."
Keith Hennessy in "Crotch. . ."
Yi-Chun Wu
Keith Hennessy in "Crotch. . ."

Details

Sens/Noťmie Lafrance
For location, go to: www.senproduction.org
718-302-5024
Through Sunday, April 11

Melanie Maar Keith Hennessy/Zero Performance
Dance Theater Workshop
April 2 through 4

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The last scene may be the most disconcerting. Hennessy removes his emerald green jockey shorts, sits in a chair, and with handfuls of lard (a favorite Beuys material) builds a wall in front of his genitals, slavering the stuff onto his thighs and pressing it to stick. Thus fortified, he asks for three volunteers to sit on chairs placed close to him in a semi-circle and invites the rest of us to cluster around. One volunteer holds a spool of red thread. Hennessy takes the needle end and begins slowly to sew through the clothing of all three—a stitch through the knee of one person’s jeans, another’s skirt. Long red lines begin to connect them to him, because he’s passing the needle through his own skin. I’m standing at the back where the crowd is thinner, and what I see are the rapt faces of the spectators, some of them crouching close, others leaning in. No one winces, no one draws back. Has art lost its power to shock? But Hennessy doesn’t linger over the image of a sacrificial hero in charge of his own fate. He cuts the threads, the stage manager drapes him in a blanket, and he stuffs a prizefighter’s mouthpiece behind his lower lip. Having fought the evening’s battles, he can afford to sing along with Nirvana. There’s no climactic ending. He indicates he’s done, and the crowd cheers.

It’s a good thing that Melanie Maar’s Phenomenal Bodies preceded Hennessy’s work on their shared evening. Hers is a slim, disciplined piece, although it’s as quirky in its own way as his. The Austrian-born Maar, who began choreographing in 2002, has been influenced by her studies in cognitive science—an interest engendered by her father’s movement disorder. The movements that she, Mariangela Lopez, and Marilyn Maywald perform are often repeated until they become obsessive, or transform into something else that may have been what they had in mind all along. Sometimes the women stand with their hands awkwardly forward and curved, as if they wished to take hold of some large object but weren’t sure how to go about it.

A couple of times they wear dark wigs, for no reason that I can fathom. A need to disguise themselves from themselves? They begin by swinging their arms and twisting their torsos from side to side with increasing speed. Eventually their gestures morph into an increasingly frenzied hurling, then calm back down. Kenta Nagai, drawing high, ringing sounds and percussive thumps from his electric guitar, intensifies his playing to match their escalating mood.

In another section, Maar and Nagai sit on chairs and use mics to draw music from their own bodies—a piercing shriek here, a hum there. Meanwhile, Maywald, prone, tries lifting a leg or levering her butt into the air, grunting with the effort, and Lopez, wearing a red apron backward, dances with almost pompous care—now dropping into a deep knee-bend, now walking on tiptoe, now attempting to sit on or straddle Maywald’s uplifted foot. Can she have mistaken it for a toilet?

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