Last night, Japanther’s “Dinosaur Death Dance” ended with Crass’ Penny Rimbaud asking, “What kindly faeries enchant this place?” Tentative answers: a skeletal, animatronic dinosaur; skateboarders; David Byrne; women in sparkly hoods and tights, plus a man in a lucha libre mask; PERFORMA curator RoseLee Goldberg; and about 99 mystified onlookers, who didn’t know quite what to dodge among all the things, human and non-, flying around in brick strictures of PS122.
PERFORMA had commissioned “Death Dance,” and billed it, misleadingly, as a rock-opera with a political edge. Dan Graham, first-generation performance artist, designed the set, a tiny central platform flanked by two optical glass screens. But though it began with bird song and ended with Rimbaud’s portentous blessing, there was nothing upmarket or uptight about Japanther’s newest art-world infiltration.
What do coordinated dance steps by “sprites and wood nymphs,” a punk band, an anarchist poet, and a sample-heavy projection soundtrack have to do with a smoke-spewing dinosaur lying “on his deathbed, recanting his belief systems?” Nothing as it turns out. It was the kind of cultural event into which large numbers of people independently decide to smuggle alcohol (rehearsals were apparently so weed-soaked the dinosaur “didn’t need the smoke machine” secreted within its throat), and then offer spares to strangers.
The two-piece Japanther crew pumped out the same set of songs, more or less, they’d performed at CMJ less than a month ago. At lulls, they’d fade out, and accompany Rimbaud. Sample lyric: “What are we but the soul looking for itself?” The total “Death Dance” anarchy suited an event designed to showcase Rimbaud, who along with the band he started, Crass, invented the do-it-yourself attitude that was last night elevated to total spectacle. It was a basement show featuring the man who gave birth to basement shows. “I am the indigene!” he thundered at one point. In this venue: true.
In turn, he’d give way to video, pointed at two opposite walls. Projections pointedly hailed the Legion of Doom, the infamous Columbus, Ohio DIY basement space, and ran replays of kids hailing the joys of TV on, yup, a green-screened TV. Meanwhile the dragon/dinosaur nodded and mouthed along, kids crowd-surfed, ticket-takers handed out earplugs, and when the show wound down at 10:15pm, everybody had to get ready to do it again at 11. “We have to fucking do that again?” asked Rimbaud outside, while desperately sucking on what may or may not have been a cigarette. Those looking for stronger stuff will find it, I hear, beneath the dragon’s tongue, but I can’t think of any place where you’ll need it less.