Mary Luft & Company, Kiss Your Mamma Good-by

New Music America Festival

When choreographer Mary Luft and composer Joseph Celli planned New Music America’s tenth annual festival in Miami, one of their goals was to create a festival suited to the environment of its host city. Among the many site-specific installations commissioned for the festival was Kiss Your Mamma Good-by, a performance piece designed by Luft for commuters traveling Miami’s Metrorail and Metromover systems. For five working days, Luft’s dance company performed on the rail cars and in the stations, using text and movement to explore themes of departure and arrival, of moving and being transplanted. Texts were drawn from material gathered throughout the previous year from members of the Miami community and woven together by Luft, with aural elements supplied by composer Brian Johnson.

The program included individual readings on the morning Metrorail, noontime group readings at a central station, and evening dance performances at the Miami-Dade Community College Campus station. Travelers heard a dense mixture of personal accounts, puns, short stories, limericks, and poetry. The piece metamorphosed from intimate personal communication with the morning travelers into a noontime gumbo of texts, which emanated from a tangle of talking humans ensconced in the center of an interchange hub. The evening segment attracted passersby to a sidewalk setting where graceful, whimsical choreography by Luft’s company blended with Johnson’s intriguing live-sound piece, played on toy instruments and pieces of junk. Dancers met, paired, and parted in myriad ways, with layered pieces of narration pointing to the theme of departure.

As well-danced and -designed as the piece was, its use of site was perhaps its most important feature. Having the audience consider the transitory nature of contemporary life while they were actually moving through the workday magnified the work’s impact, and made it delightful. Yet the selected text and visuals could have been more specific to Miami; as it was, the piece could have been transferred to any urban rail system. Because I was seeking the work, hunting it down throughout the city, it’s hard to say what commuters received from their casual experience of it. And I wondered often if the piece were, in fact, accessible to Miami’s multicultural, multilingual general public—what they thought when taken by surprise by a group of dancers with limbs entangled, reading maniacally from Wind in the Willows or The White House Pastry Murders. But the work’s exuberant spirit seemed to make up for any confusion it might have caused.

Linda Frye Burnham