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    Deluxe Joy Pilot

    I like to watch

    Some audience members are drawn into Felix Ruckert's "Deluxe Joy Pilot" and others are left in their seats to wonder whether they're seeing groundbreaking performance or an art-world "Temptation Island."


    Compagnie Felix Ruckert brought their interactive dance club, "Deluxe Joy Pilot," to Dance Theater Workshop this past weekend. Entering the building, the rules were displayed on poster boards: sit in a blue inflatable chair and there is no proposed interaction. Sit on a large bed and there may be a little bit. Sit on a small bed and you will be asked to participate and do "certain choreographies" as part of the performance. "Deluxe Joy Pilot," it says, is a coincidental piece based on the combination of audience and dancers.

    Choreography by: Felix Ruckert.
    Dancers: Matthieu Burner, Hanna Hedman, Silvia Freund, Catherine Jodoin, Laura Frigato,Caroline Picard, Dominique Pollet, Delta RAI, Marika Rizzi, Jose Anton Reza Bernal, Gabriel Staelen, Daniela Wedhorn.
    Music by: Christian Meyer Mal.
    Set design by: Felix Ruckert, Bruno Pocheron.

    Related links: Official site
    Dance Theater Workshop
    219 West 19th St.
    Sept. 3-6, 2003

    As the event opened, the possibilities of the format seemed huge. Not a radical step forward so much as a logical one, the work was significant in its potential for expanding the parameters of performance and the dance language used in performance.

    Those audience members who lay on the small beds found themselves being physically manipulated by the dancers — folding joints, articulating spines, receiving touch, guided rotations of the bones in the shoulder girdle and arm. I was struck by the obviousness of the performance technology. Touch — "bodywork" — is a central part of today's "downtown" dance education and practice. A highly refined way of guiding each other through experiential anatomy, bodywork is an important, mostly passive phase in the cultivation of an articulate New Dance body. The training tool, however, had never to my knowledge become performative.

    Deluxe Joy Pilot  
    Solving the problem of an empty bed, two of the dancers asked a woman from a large bed to come into the space. Gently they manipulated her onto the bed, creating in the course of it a riveting image, loaded with care, articulation, trust, but also a compelling visual architecture: a constellation of limbs, a strange interpersonal situation.

    Evolving a dance practice to become performative presents an obvious danger — of the performance becoming inclusive to the point of being non-performative. Undoubtedly there is something lost between the moments of pure practice — observing each other in a class, rehearsal, improvisation setting — and the self-conscious event of a performance. It seemed to me that Ruckert was trying to retrograde that pathway, to capture that intimate, revelatory attention of the class or laboratory and let it live in performance via his careful structures. This certainly happened. But instead of evolving the performance structure via the usage of these studio practices, "Deluxe Joy Pilot" only ended up creating a performance of a class. Missing for me was the visual architecture, the necessity of looking. The event became very much about feel. Having witnessed, as a teacher and dancer, hundreds of people experience the intimate clarity of bodywork, it only made me wish that I had taken a small bed and so could have received some good hands-on work myself. What was there to watch? Why were there chairs which "proposed no interaction?"

    Nonetheless, the performance did give me cause to muse upon the very compelling idea of updating, as it were, the dance performance by including its many practice technologies in the materials for performance. Significantly, as dance, and performance in general, continues to struggle to define itself in a culture of recording, filesharing, digital presence, "Deluxe Joy Pilot" went all the way in considering what was special about live performance. Recommending more than the intangible (and arguably fantastic) thing of "presence," they were advocating for the unrepeatable event of a convergence of people in a space. Toying with the idea of dropping the whole protocol of passive observation, performance was verging on becoming a service. (Take note, all you penniless dancers! We do live in a "service economy" after all.)

      Recommending more than the intangible (and arguably fantastic) thing of "presence," they were advocating for the unrepeatable event of a convergence of people in a space.
    The press quotes in the flyer paint a picture of a galvanizing force — either you love it or you hate it, you find it to be brilliant or to be crap. This observer, and others I spoke to, found it a thing more in the middle: it was compelling but didn't follow through on its questions enough to garner such drastic response. I am grateful though, for the ideas it sparked.

    A primary issue in the overall indirection of "Deluxe Joy Pilot" as a performance event was its overfilling with improvised solos. The majority of the evening was spent watching the company dancers improvise, and though they were quite beautiful and sometimes hit upon very clever or compelling moments, there was little relationship between the soloing and the audience interaction, other than its feel-good nature. Also, when audience members were coaxed out into the space, nothing much happened with them — the dances they were guided through were surprisingly tame.

    From my privileged insider viewpoint, as a dancer versed in these practices of physical manipulation and state-based improvisation, I grew bored, seeing something cloaked in promises of radicalism which was instead nothing new. Had I been able to strip my experience of the elements which pulled me away from this question (the extraneous soloing) and retain only the parts where a truly compelling event or manipulation happened, I'm sure I would have come home and sung their praises. The meat of the evening, fat thusly stripped away, had to do with minorly perverse but caring invasion. Related perhaps to our (inter)national taste for reality shows (maybe this is why there was some chairs where you just get to watch), being in the position of viewing this breach of all interpersonal protocol between strangers was the defining event. Like a highbrow "Temptation Island," witnessing the surprising intimacies of others, or experiencing them while simultaneously being aware of being watched.

    I like to watch. I guess. But my curiosity and intellect were left hungry. But that's a step up from the appalling sadness I felt that time I watched "Elimidate."

    SEPTEMBER 9, 2003

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