Speculations on Spectatorship by Irene Hsiao

Last updated on February 28, 2017

By Irene Hsiao (SF Weekly)
Published Mon., Jun. 10 2013 at 12:49 PM


In Pageantry, June 7-9 at CounterPULSE, Liz Tenuto and Justin Morrison presented two works that forcibly brought the audience into confrontation with its own spectatorship.

Morrison’s solo, WEAPON, began with a red platform heel poking out from a curtain wound around the scaffolding of the ceiling. Slowly a pair of legs emerged, painted up the inseam with a shiny green vine: gravity-defying Dorothy as astronaut.
Photo of WEAPON by Jim Tobin

The lights went down, the dancer slipped from his precarious perch with an almost inaudible clop, and the lights lifted again on a primitive man, practically naked, emerging on all fours from beneath a sheet of marley. The apparatuses of the stage thus re-purposed, Morrison gave a performance that was at times astonishing in the absolute silence of a body in extreme control of every joint and muscle fiber, and at times plagued with the question of what constitutes theatricality — from the thick false lashes and burgundy hair extensions he wore to the props he hauled onstage. By the end of the piece, a bag of costumes, an amp and microphones, a laptop, a set of folding chairs, an electric fan. As if dubious of the inherent power of the body to captivate, Morrison pulled out trick after trick, calling to Becky Robinson-Leviton in the booth, who indefatigably responded with a complex scheme of lights and sounds, pulling a “volunteer” from the audience for impromptu (but scripted) sex therapy, stripping completely and wiping himself down with his dance belt, impersonating the turbaned imperiousness of Norma Desmond, the sensual wind-whipped dress of Marilyn Monroe.

All the to-do made much of and mocked the need to costume and compose a theatrical work — it should be no surprise that a dancer known best as an improviser would mark choreography by its potential for artifice and error. Morrison kept dancing as the audience trickled out the door.

The piece, as far as we know, never ended.