Jill Sigman Goes to ZsaZsaLand; Yvonne Meier’s Homemade Magic


To get to ZsaZsaLand, you exit the L train’s Morgan Avenue stop and walk along deserted streets, past shuttered storefronts and windowless warehouses. With luck, sentinels (possibly sporting hoodies over raggedy tutus) will point the way to Office Ops—a clean, barren arrangement of corridors and rooms with an indecipherable history. In one of these rooms, spectators sit on single rows of chairs set around the perimeter. While waiting for the show proper to start, we peruse the eye-popping décor; four garlands hang like pillars from a suspended overhead square. Fake dollar bills cluster with large, improbably bright flowers, shredded newspaper, tinsel, little red Christmas lights, small mirror balls, clear plastic, yellow “caution” strips, dead branches wrapped in pink paper, and, at one side an array of what look like deformed brains. A projected video rambles around a deserted lake-front cottage. Aaron Copp’s lighting bathes the room in a luscious glow.

For a long time, three women sniff at the garlands, getting high on blooms and moola. Sometimes they don high heels and, responding to cell-phone messages, pass out “jello shots” in tiny cafeteria-style cream containers. “Welcome to ZsaZsaLand,” they say. Zsa Zsa as in Gabor? That relic of talentless, Hollywood glamour? (Did I detect a faux-Hungarian accent at one point?) Lalaland, for sure. Homer’s lotus eaters have nothing on these pretty folks. Another jello, and you could almost forget that you’ve come to see a performance.

Jill Sigman has an interest in—and a talent for—installations-with-dancing that suggest our culture experienced in nightmare glimpses. ZsaZsaLand is a jumble of images on a collision course, given audible life by the motley collection of music and natural sounds that Joro de Boro samples at his console in a corner of the room. All turns out not to be well in paradise. Mary Suk, cleaning up in a blue hazmat (sort of) suit, clues us in. And, although Sigman and Donna Costello, outlandishly clad, make their entrance on a wheeled desk pulled by Toby Billowitz, the vision of a parade float is undercut by Sigman’s furious, silent orating.

It’s difficult to make sense of all that she seems to want ZsaZsaLand to convey about decay, demoralization, greed, and violence. One of the most telling moments comes when we’re invited to leave our seats and come close to the hastily created yellow tape enclosure where Sigman thrashes blindfolded. “Take out your cell phones,” we’re told, and we’re all snapping pictures when we suddenly realize that we’ve linked ourselves with the guards at Abu Ghraib. Later, a bone figures first as an archaeological discovery, then as the centerpiece of a spin-the-bone game that results not in kisses but in fierce chest bumps, and finally as a humiliating necklace that Sigman wears while, on her knees, she’s repeatedly shoved over (the bone, smacking against the floor, suggests her head is cracking). Scenes like this and drawn guns have equal status with laughing and singing and ringing bells, plus doing big, stretchy dance moves and a crazed hora.

At one point, Sigman’s outrage gets the better of her. Billowitz announces a fund-raising drive for the company. For a $50 donation, you get a pop-up guide to waterboarding for your kids. For $300, as I remember, you get the screams of torture victims set to music as ringtones (“also available at Guantanamo Bay Ikea”). I shudder at Sigman’s bad taste almost as much as I do at the visions her idea conjures up. Are we that morally bankrupt? I’d like to hear a few negatives, please.

ZsaZsaLand: Aftermath, a related free installation, will be open February 26 through 28 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., with live “art events” at 7.

Not everyone gathered in Saint Mark’s Church to watch Yvonne Meier’s Stolen may have felt the unalloyed delight that I did, but I’ll bet few, if any, were disgruntled. Meier, who’s been presenting work in New York and her native Switzerland since 1980, has a mix of originality, eccentricity, serious playfulness, and wit that’s all too rare these days.

She’s a veteran improviser, and I suspect that she and her two collaborators and fellow performers, Aki Sasamoto and Arturo Vidich, have not choreographed Stolen’s every last move. I can’t even imagine how that would have been possible in the case of the solo by Vidich that opens the piece. Lunging and hurling himself about the space in Kathy Kaufmann’s bright white light, he snarls, yells, and roars until he’s red in the face. He attacks a pillar of the church, wrapping his legs about it with destruction clearly a goal. He slides and cavorts like a monkey while shoes are tossed down from the balcony. Can he scare a boot? Maybe not, but he can bite it. He calms down when Meier and Sasamoto rip apart his gray shirt and white pants (buttons hit the floor like hailstones), and Meier leads him away by the hand.

Sasamoto rivals him in primality—shuddering and growling and tearing her T-shirt amid overlapping rectangles of light. She gabbles Japanese gibberish. Her hair comes down. She punches the air. Meanwhile, on the balcony, composer-performer Alsarah (originally from Sudan) sings and growls in a miasma of sound, “Baby take your time. Do it right.” Eventually, Sasamoto too quiets down and stands under the railing while a seemingly endless length of gray fabric is spooled down over her. By the time there’s no more of it left, she looks like one of the drip castles you maybe once built on the beach.

Stolen is, in part, about making and unmaking. Objects that entrap also become material for investigation (and trash to clear away). Once Vidich and Meier have freed Sasamoto, she uses what turn out to be four separate pieces of cloth to systematically wrap each foot and one hand. She has to bother her colleagues, as they gesture in another corner, to help her wrap the remaining hand. Then she attempts to walk on all fours with her big slippery paws.

Homemade magic flourishes. Two foil mounds, like shy turtles, move closer to each other; once uncovered, Vidich, joined by Meier, races around bearing those same “shells” on bamboo poles, until the silver surfaces shred. A rope is used to jump over or tangle someone in. In one excruciating episode, Vidich, blindfolded and all tied up, wants to back onto a low table. Just as he gets there, Sasamoto moves it away. When he finally settles, the women attach more ropes to the table legs and yank. Naturally, the leg comes off and Vidich falls in a heap of wood and fiber. Then everyone tidies up.

These are daring, profoundly physical performers, and all three—the lithe Vidich and Sasamoto and the now sturdier, more mature Meier—have moments in which they simply lash and coil and slip the materials that are their bodies through the surrounding space. Sitting in St. Mark’s, I realize that for these 45 minutes, there’s no place I’d rather be.