New York

Dancenoise, Half a Brain

Performance Space 122

Lucy Sexton and Anne Iobst, known collectively as Dancenoise, create and star in big blurs of dance, spoken text, and sound-collage that critique contemporary culture while seeming to flail wildly in its maw. Maybe because their work arrives several generations into the development of performance art, it also seems to be, on one level, a kind of hyper documentary of the highs and lows thus far. In their version, deranged, logorrheic phrases and slogans, often repeated verbatim from pop music, TV commercials, and other performance pieces, are piled one on top of the other to suggest a wealth of sexual, romantic, and violent obsessions. The tone is playfully brutalist. The structure is a complex skit orchestrated with split-second timing that has the delicate tantrumesque quality of Richard Foreman’s work, mixed with the rawness of a street scene.

In Half a Brain, Sexton and Iobst brawled with media representations of women as passive, commodity-obsessed halfwits. The piece began with a “subservient” gesture—the duo dressed as tacky sex objects tossing red plastic flowers to the audience—and ended with a hellish variation on the same image—the sweaty and disheveled duo staggering toward and away from the audience in unison, stabbing themselves repeatedly in the throat, spurting theatrical blood. In between, they’d expressed their dissatisfaction with contemporary values by stressing the grotesqueness of some ubiquitous icons: Scientology, Cher, the presidential election, Ted Koppel, psychedelia, and the animal-rights movement, among others. Occasionally the blaring soundtrack—a choppy pastiche of pop music past and present (AC/DC’s “Givin’ the Dog a Bone,” an old Simon and Garfunkel tune, “The First Cut Is the Deepest” by Rod Stewart, Belinda Carlisle’s “Heaven Is a Place on Earth,” etc.)—would pause long enough for a high-decibel interlude performed live by the composer/percussionist David Linton on a drum set at midstage. Sometimes the stars and/or their guest performers (Jennifer Monson, Carmelita Tropicana, Ishmael Houston-Jones, Almon Grimsted, and John Hagan) would interject chunks of brain-damaged philosophy. “You can cut off our heads,” they announced during a lull in the action, “but you can’t change our minds.”

Sexton and Iobst’s work displays a promiscuous intelligence and vitality that ups the ante on most other performance art, which tends to use a veneer of ease to erase the pretenses of conventional theater or dance. Performance remains one of the most difficult arts to master, partly because the least compromise leads back to one of the older, deadlier entertainment forms, and partly because each construct must measure up to the sexy beauty of the medium’s immediacy. Dancenoise seems to have gotten the balance absolutely right, for the apparent chaos of Half a Brain felt perfect in a way that truly alive art rarely does.

Dennis Cooper