Yesterday I went to see Monica Bill Barnes’ site-specific dance Game Face, showing as part of the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s Sitelines series. I’ve seen Barnes’ work before and have liked her in the past, and I found this one very amusing — along with the rest of the audience (comprised both of people who’d come for the show and unsuspecting tourists in the area to catch an optimal view of the Statue of Liberty), but I’m not sure if she met her stated aim.
The flyer states that the dance “compares the show business motto of ‘the show must go on’ with the current perception of finance as being an all-consuming self-sacrificing business. Exploring a performer’s endurance and ‘do or die’ attitude as an illustration of Wall Street’s reputation for tireless work, this new work is bizarre, exhausting, and boldly funny…”
I thought it was bizarre and funny, but I couldn’t see what it really had to do with Wall Street or the financial industry. It took place at the Robert Wagner Park, which is in the northeast corner of Battery Park, sandwiched between a restaurant and the Museum of Jewish Heritage. The park, as I said, offers a lovely view of the Statue of Liberty, and a large grassy area for children to play, so it’s a good area for tourists, especially with kids.
If she’d wanted to make a statement about Wall Street and financial workers, it might have been better placed at the little cobblestoned, pedestrian-only intersection of Wall Street and Broadway. Or, if that was too crowded and they couldn’t get a permit, there’s a spacious area in front of the Chase Manhattan building, where I’ve seen other dance performances; they could have even had it in Liberty Park, where another Sitelines performance was held last year — all of which are centrally located in the Financial District, set among the high buildings and rushed business people. Held here, it seemed to be making more of a statement about tourism.
First, two dancers, Deborah Lohse (wearing the green Statue of Liberty cap) and Barnes, holding her up, asked a woman — presumably a tourist — to take their picture with the Statue of Liberty in the background, in typical tourist fashion. The woman complied, not knowing she was part of the performance, as it was just about to begin.
Next, some Elvis music began playing over a couple of speakers, while four women dressed either as tourists or in athletic work-out garb danced in unison along a back wall, while Lohse began to lean on Barnes in various poses. At first, she leaned due sideways, the two women making an interesting triangular shape. Then Lohse began to lose her form, becoming almost a bag of bones, while Barnes struggled to hold her up. Eventually, Barnes picked her up and carried her off. The whole time, Lohse was facing the Statue of Liberty, and her expressions of awe at it, along with her touristy hat, indicated she was mesmerized, entranced. But too much so. Like Barnes was saying people get carried away with their worship of landmarks, of a meaningless idol, of what New York stands for, without considering what really goes on here, what Lady Liberty stands for. It could also have been making a statement of the collapsing of the American dream or something, but I think it was too light-hearted for that.
Then, the dancers all disappeared through an archway, behind a building, and emerged out on the little plaza area in front of the park. They danced briefly, to Elvis, then disappeared again, and emerged
on top of the walkway connecting a restaurant with the museum. At points they looked out at the water, standing shock still, and at points they broke into dance, all the while Elvis crooning his iconic songs. Ridiculously, the music being so iconic, I can’t even remember which songs they were; I don’t even know the names of most. One where he keeps pleading, “Believe Me, believe me…” I think “Heartbreak Hotel” was in there; the only one I remember for sure is the one they ended with, “Fools Rush In.” Anyway, this part of the dance was kind of funny in a Where’s Waldo way, losing sight of the dancers, looking around for them, seeing them pop up in a new, unexpected place.
But the best part was when a waiter at the restaurant and a seemingly random guy on a bike got in on the action, grabbing microphones and singing along with Elvis, their voices overtaking his on the speakers. I don’t know if they were officially part of the act or if Barnes had convinced them on the spot to join in, but the waiter guy looked pretty much like a genuine waiter at that restaurant.
They eventually climbed onto some benches where onlookers were seated, really belting it out. The audience went nuts with laughter.
The dancers disappeared again and re-emerged, most of them now wearing white gauzy, almost wedding-gown-looking dresses. I wasn’t sure what the significance of this was, but here they are on the little plaza again, seeming to wave at a tourist bus pulling into Battery Park.
Then they took to the grassy area.
And ended dancing, then running along the park’s cement perimeter. They disappeared and of course we continued to look for them, only knowing for certain the show was over when the words “Elvis has left the building,” came on over the speakers.
The performance was about 20 minutes altogether and it definitely had a certain charm and humor. But as a whole, I wasn’t sure what it all meant, whether it had any cohesive meaning.
If you want to check it out, it’s showing again tomorrow, Wednesday the 6th, at noon and again at 1 p.m., and Thursday the 7th at the same times, and next Monday through Thursday, Aug. 11-14, at noon and 1. It’s in the Robert Wagner park, located just north and east of Battery Park. Go here for more details.