The Kitchen, NYC
February 18–20, 2010
Reviewed by Susan Yung
Escalante and Nancy Garcia in
The 25th Frame. Photo by Paul Court, Courtesy The Kitchen.
The dazzling set for Alex Escalante’s The 25th Frame—gold foil coating every visible surface, including two rolling ladders and a grand piano—raised expectations for a similarly grand performance. Joe Levasseur’s perfectly aimed, warm pools of light enhanced the illusion of lucre (he assisted Escalante with the set design). The title refers to subliminal frames supposedly embedded within early TV commercials; the artist-edited video loops included news clips and Soviet propaganda, plus a mouth speaking Samuel Beckett’s Not I.
Escalante and Nancy Garcia climbed the ladders and took turns screaming concatenations of words that sometimes made sense when combined, like “Babel,” (or “babble”) “Babylon,” “tower.” Like talking heads on CNN, the verbal assault alternated between a meaningless torrent and momentous nuggets. Each ladder looked like a gilded Fluxus artifact, bedecked with amplifiers lit like gemstones and an array of lighting fixtures, plus a thick braid of power cables trailing like a panther’s tail.
Eventually, the two began a series of deliberately casual, static poses on the floor before crawling near one another and engaging in a slow, perpetually moving segment parallel to one another. Composer Jon Moniaci cued from onstage his humming soundscore which built in volume and layers, highlighting the power of repetition and accumulation to assert, if not truth, then a dull version of reality. Garcia and Escalante stood and began to shake as if reacting to outside forces, raising their arms overhead, then lunging deeply, their sudden stillness accentuated by their gazes directed at us.
The final section featured Moniaci at the piano, playing Rachmaninoff as biting Soviet cartoon propaganda was projected above him. He then mounted a ladder and used it as an auctioneer’s lectern, fake-selling moral high ground, peace of mind, and in a bit whose irony felt heavy-handed, The 25th Frame itself (bidding began at $6,000). Escalante is clearly concerned with some fertile ideas, but his choreography doesn’t convey them nor contribute nearly as much as his visual conception, which could stand alone as an installation.