New York

Robert Whitman and Sylvia Palacios

519 W. 19th St.

This double bill by a husband-and-wife performance duo featured separate performances that were distinctively different, but that shared a set of assumptions not often seen on today’s performance circuit. Generally, both Eclipse and Irregulars present imagistic, surrealistic events organized around complexes of visual and aural effects. These playlets align themselves squarely with a party line of esthetic and philosophical tenets from ’60s performance (rather than with the more audience-aware, explicitly social, and altogether “hotter” ’80s version). While interesting in this out-of-synch way, and occasionally intriguing in isolated segments, both pieces suffer from their dated context, coming off finally as studious exercises of old principles rather than as compelling performance pieces, even of their type.

Like Robert Whitman’s remarkable Raincover of last year, Eclipse was given an extravagant production by the Dia Art Foundation, which maintains a huge warehouse space especially for Whitman’s works. Unfortunately, however, Eclipse is a pale shadow of its haunting predecessor, failing in almost every way to stir up the evocative, elusive, yet precise sense of unreality that Raincover and certain other Whitman works have so perfectly created. Almost all of it takes place in pitch dark or in dim light, and before a huge black scrim, a conceit that overpowers the smallish, isolated, ploddingly timed events. Also, too much of the activity trades on a kind of bargain-basement surrealism, relying heavily on a generalized dynamic of clichéd incongruity.

The performance begins with a typical Whitmanesque media twist: on film, a pile of leaves slowly blows away to reveal several diners seated at a table; at the end of the piece, this film is run “backwards,” the leaves slowly accumulating to cover the diners, revealing that the clip’s first showing was a reverse-action projection. The rest of Eclipse displays a random collection of similarly quirky, mildly funny, but not so riveting actions. While an audiotape of summery country sounds plays, and after film footage of a cow in close-up, a Mylar-suited man opens a barn gate on stage, and a stream of large silver balls cascades to the floor. A woman stands motionless as a cup slowly descends from a great height, lands on a table, and soundlessly shatters; after a pause, the sound of breaking crockery is heard on tape. A man elevated high against the stage scrim holds open the coat of his suit and a shower of gravel pours from his inside pocket. These and other, more opaque, events are just too arbitrary, too minor, too lacking in resonance to generate the air of deep mystery that Whitman’s work, at its best, generates with such original finesse.

Sylvia Palacios’ Irregulars is lighter in tone, more like a friendly chamber recital, a quality most likely due to the wacky zigzag text by Ron Padgett. And the initial setting in the large whitewashed upstairs room of the warehouse is attention-getting: stage right, a corpselike figure lies on a newspaper-covered bier next to a newspaper-covered banquet table setting; on the rear wall, at a considerable distance from the audience, three figures are suspended in gravity-defying poses, like living bas-reliefs. The action begins with a funny sound/image: six blenders rev up and furiously stir a deep blue liquid. The characters begin to chatter, as do two women who enter one by one, to be joined at the table by the figure from the bier. At intervals, two white-jumpsuited “techies” standing high on columns flanking the stage speak aloud and pass back and forth, via a rope-and-pulley system, key words written on large cardboard signs. Occasional collisions of scattershot language and abstracted movement produce some humorous moments, but Irregulars quickly becomes a rather ordinary, homemade surrealistic farce, without much irrational bite, as the choreographed nonbehavior unfolds over a lengthy half hour.

John Howell