Gone are the days when the theater caused uproars, riots, or the involvement of the National Guard. But apparently it can still kick you (OK, me) in the head—twice in one show (once by an animatronic dinosaur, once by a crowd-surfing audience member). Japanther’s performance piece (3-D) Dinosaur Death Dance posed plenty of threats, none of them particularly theatrical. Not the “comedic rock-opera” that P.S.122 had announced, this Performa co-production featured the post-punk Williamsburg band playing a typical set (unconnected lyrically or thematically), embellished with dancers, video, poetic ramblings, and the titular dinosaur.
As a noise-rock show, it was a delight—sweaty, dissolute, vicious. As a performance piece, it proved a yawn, full of overfamiliar elements and nothing Fluxus didn’t do better 40 years ago (or Dada 90 years ago). Not that the young crowd—hoodie-attired, tallboy-clutching—seemed to mind. They may well have thought themselves in the midst of something genuinely innovative. Japanther may know better. As they sing in “Challenge”: “Brooklyn, New York/That’s where we dwell/And to a lot of people/It’s a living hell/Full of frustration and poverty/But wait, that’s just how it used to be.”