Movement Research Fall Festival

December 5, 2009

“Ishmael Houston-Jones’ Messies: Dance Shouts at the World”
Movement Research Fall Festival

December 5, 2009

St. Marks Church, NYC

Reviewed by Siobhan Burke

Jack Ferver’s
Rumble Ghost. Photo by Ian Douglas.


A program called “Dance Shouts at the World” needs a bold introduction to go with it. So it felt appropriate when Ishmael Houston-Jones, in his opening remarks, shed his plush red bathrobe for nothing but a tank top, socks, and slippers. That didn’t get in the way of business—nor did three assistants scurrying in to dress him in frilly underwear and formal suit. Sticking to his agenda, Houston-Jones explained why we were here: in honor of “The Messies,” his answer to the suspended 2008–09 Bessie Awards. In September he had announced his 37 Messie recipients—“those artists whose work made me think and feel and marvel and rage and laugh”—on the Movement Research blog. This final evening of the annual MR Fall Festival (curated this year by Lucy Sexton and Charles Atlas) included work by five of those artists, which ran the gamut from fascinating to flat.

The preface segued into the evening’s most riveting event: Rumble Ghost, a jolt of dance/theater from Jack Ferver. The dark comedy involved “Mr. and Mrs. Ferver” (Ferver as the Mrs., Nico Herbst as her husband) summoning the spirit of their kidnapped daughter via detective/conjurer Carlye Eckert. Downstage a statuesque pair (Breana O’Mara and Reid Bartelme) mirrored each other’s long balletic lines, creating a kind of portal to the tableau behind them: Ferver and Herbst frozen in an anxious embrace, Liz Santoro pinned violently to the church’s alter by Tony Orrico. The piece began with the cast rigidly convulsing and ended with them shrieking in unison.

Another highlight was Breed from self-ascribed “Messiah of Funk” Monstah Black, a genre-blending soloist whose music, dancing, and costume design (all his own) rival each other for fabulousness. His outfit was like a metaphor for the work: a little of everything woven together, somehow cohesive. Starting in darkness on the floor, he made his way to a standing mic center-stage, as his sighing, hissing, and slurping built to infectiously soulful song. Vocals alternated with bouts of rippling, popping movement, something like a hybrid of West African and club. (He’ll perform and release his full-length album Submerged in Blue this spring.)

Others did not bring their most Messie-worthy material. Christine Elmo tried her hand at the art of interviewing in a murky, long-winded Q&A with Ann Liv Young. Sounding objects, a duet from Aki Sasamoto and Arturo Vidich, was a curious, meandering experiment with a massive cardboard tube, big enough for the nimble Sasamoto to disappear inside of—unfortunately, since the best part was watching her move.

The evening ended as it had begun—with some full-frontal nudity—in Layard Thompson’s Verb-alll…la la la…trasshhhh. All spindly muscle, Thompson jerked and writhed, guttural noises escaping from inside him. As he chased maniacally after plastic bags that floated down from the balcony, stuffing them in his mouth and under his shirt, he seemed to be commenting on consumerist excess, but the work itself felt like an over-indulgence.