New York

Claude Wampler


Cake Fur (Boots Randolph Luvs Hijika-ka Luvs Dick Wampler Luvs Joe Boys Luvs America Luvs Kurt Nobrain Luvs Verboten Fur Buttons Luvs Shecky Really Luvs Shecky Luvs Dirty Knees Luvs These), 1995, was Claude Wampler’s ode to tininess and her tiny dog, Cake, as well as a perverse circus act haunted by Lassie and other famous dogs. Cake is a star, a geisha, a glamour pooch, part Papillon and Pomeranian, but really all her breeding is icing since she’s an A.S.P.C.A. love mutt and nothing but. Growing wild with the dumb nature of love structured Wampler’s performance: how mysteriously simple it is to fall for the antic expectation and silence of the animal in everything.

As the lights went up, Wampler appeared dumbstruck, her hair dyed caramel like Cake’s, in a coat as shaggy as Cake’s, her eyes dark pools of canine longing, while a huge silver gun was slowly aimed at her head. Cake shot out of the gun, a little fur bullet of love, a bark the only bang—and the wound was the loss inherent in the mute brevity of any dog’s life span, a word there is no word for. Cake Fur’s nine continuous sections were punctuated by a woman’s frantic, inquiring messages on an unresponsive lover’s answering machine; each time, no matter how threatening or manic, the messages ended with, “I love you.” That there is never any response is the point and the problem she is dogged by.

Behind a wire fence that, weirdly, seemed to disappear and reappear all too viciously, Wampler stepped with ritualistic, choppy precision while insanely happy music played, and Cake watched. She put on fabulous furred boots, and Cake watched. She acted out a full run of overblown Hollywood love scenes with Cake as her silent but willing partner. “Say that you love me, say it!” a line from Ken Russell’s Women in Love, 1970, dropped like a pebble in a still pond and kept encircling the piece. Wampler marched for Cake and did a little Jerry Lewis routine with footsie shenanigans for Cake to music from The Nutty Professor, 1963, and crawled across the floor, and Cake ignored her or took a catnap. In a dark corner, she danced her patented “schnoop” dance which squirmed, purposefully coy, while a little girlie voice sang “Put your left leg over my shoulder, put your right leg over my shoulder” and then muffled “mmmmmmmm.” Love may mean turning away from everything (language, audience) but motion.

More than any other performer I can think of, Wampler explores tension: between fluidity and rigidity, lonely mania and calm, esthetics and obsession, and, perhaps most fascinatingly, between art object and performance. Wampler’s objects (many beautifully made incollaboration with Tim Partridge)—stunning giant gun, furry boots, shag coat, nipple shirt, and baby-blue sequin skirt with fur pockets—are not props but pieces of sculpture, and they resonate and contrast with the austere, zany ephemerality of her movements. This tension is Wampler’s closest connection to one of her inspirers, Hijikata, the founder of Butoh, whose big gold cock, from one of his most famous dances, remained long after his movements had faded—quicksilver. Despite assertions to the contrary, Butoh is not “dance that is slow”; its momentum can be out of control, although it is always staggeringly disciplined. Wampler incorporates Butoh strictures, but her vocabulary of movement is entirely her own—hers was no orientalist project. Wampler’s motions do have everything to do with scale, with movement ground through a microscope or viewed too closely through the wrong end of a distorting lens.

Wampler managed to make the high-octane wackadoo poignance of Ethyl Eichelberger merge with the disturbing extremity of Hijikata. The engrossing commentaries on the body in space suggested by Leigh Bowery’s terrifically costumed performances are attained by Wampler through delicate microcontortions and various states of undress. Striptease is the Ur-choreography for many of Wampler’s most graceful and painful displays (i.e ., her “Butoh Pre-Cake: Coffee Headache” dance to Boots Randolph’s “Percolator” ), but she is never “easy”—she strips off layers of skin. Her subtle and sudden shifts—from airy and grotesque to dissonant and hilarious—her gossamer hand gestures, and possessed body snaps amaze.

Cake Fur ended when the lights slowly came up over the audience. But Wampler kept dancing furiously, madly forlorn, by doing almost nothing—shivered aftershocks—in the bright glare of a film projector’s light. Cake, who had just been seen capering in a ghostly home movie, was nowhere to be found, and the last phone message mentioned a restraining order. With Wampler there is no restraining. She loves you, and it’s scary.

Bruce Hainley