Live review | Striding Lion Performance Group | Remember the…(Alamo)
Thu Jun 9 2011
Photograph: Matthew Gregory Hollis
Annie Beserra’s director’s note for Remember the…(Alamo) asks us to “engage [ourselves] in the questions that arise” during the hour-long performance. This is good advice for the audience at a show of any kind, not just one during which you’re encouraged to move around at will, explore the props and set pieces, and park yourself anywhere within the space.
Almost anywhere, anyway. Once (Alamo) gets going, the thrust stage that rises about a foot off of the floor in [node:151995 link=Stage 773;]’s north house is home to most of the action. It becomes clear that sitting in the center of it would be unwelcome and somewhat dangerous. There’s a lot of dancing in (Alamo). You would probably get kicked in the face at some point.
Boundaries are never drawn, yet they’re collectively felt and understood.
“I am the border,” says Adriana Durant early on, her arms out like airplane wings, her feet glued to the floor. Seven other performers are meanwhile absorbed in their own tasks, idly pulling stray threads off the bottoms of three burlap screens hosting video projections (by Christopher Ash), or mulling over whether Alaska or Texas is bigger. Is it 1836, the year of the Alamo siege, generations before Alaskan statehood, or here and now in a Chicago playhouse?
Or is it the mid-fifties, when British actor Conrad Scott-Forbes played Jim Bowie on American television? (Ash cuts clips from the show’s title sequence into his excellent montage of footage, which I would watch again on its own.) Dana Dardai, whose character bounces from chanteuse to drill sergeant to mistress of ceremonies—she also plays viola, sometimes lying on her back—fakes accents as did Scott-Forbes, and as does Britt Banaszynski, a curly-haired fop in fringe recalling Matt Damon’s LeBoeuf in the Coen brothers’ True Grit as he recites passages from Davy Crockett’s autobiography.
Conspicuously (and, I believe, deliberately) absent in (Alamo) are characters who are Mexican, or even an utterance of Spanish, although the walls are dressed with blown-up panels from a bilingual comic-book treatment of the event. There are 13 recurring keywords, which also seem to have driven some of Beserra’s choreography. All are from the English language: Rotate, slice, whip, pull, drag, block, stab, grab, throw, hook, dive, revolve and shoot. Visual motifs include fingers walking like they’re legs and dancers “shooting” legs like they’re rifles. (What a richly stacked image: our instruments of locomotion reimagined as guns, in a work about violence along a border that remains charged 175 years after the battle in which Bowie, Crockett and hundreds of others were killed.)
Toward the end of (Alamo), the finger-legs walk onto the walls of the theater, drawing our attention to the container, to everything kept out in order to feel “in.”
Beserra’s landscape of movement is varied and evocative, and she moves us into and out of (Alamo)’s more traditionally theatrical scenes with true skill. A “tumbleweeds” trio is particularly affecting, as is a solo danced by Monica Thomas, whose schoolgirl character is throughout the work a reminder of a fragile right so often weaponized: a good education.
History gets messier—not that it’s ever been otherwise—and yet attempts to make it neat to serve agendas in the present increasingly seize the American consciousness, to the extent that we now have national political figures content to make shit up on the spot as suits their needs. Striding Lion Performance Group counters with a performance analogous to James Rosenquist’s F-111, with Bowie knives and beefcake in for the fighter jet and spaghetti.
As Mark Stevens wrote on the occasion of a 2003 retrospective for the painter, “The world grows ever bigger but ever more elusive.”