In the works of Jen Rosenblit and Vanessa Anspaugh, bodies float aimlessly like cumulus clouds—expanding, dividing, disappearing—and leave thick, foggy patches in their wake. Personal boundaries are tested in public spaces, and the body becomes physical evidence of the often messy effects societal norms impose on identity and experience.
Rosenblit’s In Mouth, which premiered at New York Live Arts in February alongside a new work by Anspaugh, features the choreographer and her long-time collaborator, Addys Gonzalez. Gonzalez enters in gray sweatpants, ragged sleeveless shirt, and a short cape; a white rag is stuffed in his mouth, his lower jaw dramatically protrudes from his face, and the excess material hangs over his torso. He paces in large intersecting ovals and circles, glowering at the audience. The silencing of a male body is a powerful image, although—given that he’s a dancer on stage—I have no expectation for him to speak.
Rosenblit, topless and wearing grey sweat shorts, swoops in, and the two bodies embark on a confused journey that winds through a sequence of arbitrary lighting changes. In Mouth is mostly silent, with the exception of a few tapping sounds and songlike moans compiled by the choreographer. The piece is muted and overly sedated: Gonzalez slowly and daintily crawls backwards; Rosenblit carries out a series of slow-motion cat and cow poses. She also repeatedly swats at imaginary gnats in front of her face.
In one of the piece’s most compelling passages, Rosenblit—her back to the audience—picks up her partner and carries him over her shoulder like an unwieldy habit. She pauses before predictably falling over to her side. In another memorable scene, Gonzalez rolls on the floor towards the rear wall until he smacks up against it and continues to roll in place—sweat traces mark his tiring and futile process. I wish there were more of these peculiarly tender moments, which evoked the quieter and more desperate moments in life.
Also caught between the arbitrary and oblique is Anspaugh’s Armed Guard Garden, which allegedly “looks to the queer body as a site of resistance and to current ‘occupations.’” Instead, it’s a grab bag of kitschy dance moves, performers who pull each other’s clothes off, and chalk. Performed by Mary Read, Aretha Aoki, Molly Leiber, Lydia Okrent, and Niall Noel Jones, Garden draws inspiration from the pop culture aesthetic of choreographer Faye Driscoll and even throws in Fleetwood Mac’s “Chain” for an angst-ridden stomp-a-long sequence from a couple of the dancers.
The piece is troublingly adrift. Composed of disparate elements that include cheerleading poses, piggyback rides, and Emily Roydson’s new wave Cunningham costumes, Armed Guard Garden reads more like a series of disjointed exercises opposed to making a statement about queer frames of mind.