At Friday's TBA showing of Judson Church is Ringing in Harlem (Made-to-Measure)/Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at The Judson Church (M2M), a half-dozen people walked out. Maybe a full dozen. So at Trajal Harrell's artist talk on Saturday at PICA, I asked the dancer-choreographer what that's like.
Like the other critics, I was challenged by it: the 30 minutes of motionless activity at the beginning, the spotlights burning our eyes, Harrell convulsively weeping from a chair toward the back of the stage. But I agreed with Hallett that peopleâs expectations had a great deal to do with their frustration and bewilderment. Those who came expecting a fabulously sassy Madonna music videoâHarrellâs work imagines an early-â60s collision of Harlemâs voguers and Judson Churchâs postmodern choreographersâwere bound to be disappointed by what followed: sitting, sobbing, glacially slow traipsing. Later in the piece, we got some explosive bursts of energy, particularly from dancer Thibault Lac, whose body and face are sculpted like a runway modelâs and whose limbs whip with astonishing speed and grace. (In Harrellâs second piece of the weekend, Antigone Jr., Lacâs runway walkâtiptoe strut, piercing eyes, slightly pursed lipsâcowed the audience into submission.)
But such moments of frenetic release were few and far between in M2M. As a result, I entered Saturdayâs artist talk with apprehension, wanting to guard my own critical response against whatever eloquent platitudes Harrell might offer about his work. And he did say heâs against âover-entertainized spectacle,â a point that helped explain M2M but would likely do little to appease its detractors. Yet that doesnât mean the rest of his answer to my questionâabout people who walk out of his performancesâdidnât come as a relief. âFor a piece this challenging,â Harrell said, âI donât feel like so many people walked out.â