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Sesom and Painter

 
Artist Trenton Doyle Hancock , choreographer Stephen Mills and composer
Graham Reynolds certainly deserve a huge round of applause for the work
they put into Cult of Color: Call to Color. It’s pretty obvious that
they worked really hard on it, and the performance was generally
enjoyable. I urge you to go check it out if you can find any tickets
because it’s
something to be experienced and discussed and hopefully not be missed.
HOWEVER, the reviews and hype surrounding this thing have been totally
over the top gushing circle jerks (as is almost always the case with
the performing arts in this town) and that makes me crazy and frantic.
So I’m going to complain about the show because I have a number of
issues with Cult of Color that nobody has brought up and I really can’t
get past and also because my mother’s last name literally translates to
"contrarian."



One
of my main issues I have is with the "storyline." Sam Sanford wrote a
great response
to the grotesquely simplified good vs. evil narrative in
his studio journal (and the discussion with Eric Zimmerman in the
comments gets even better). I suppose the very problematic and
frighteningly naive plot should come as no surprise, since none of the
three main creators are storytellers. There might be some narrative
elements in Hancock’s paintings but a nuanced bard he is not. It is
impossible to tell a realized, full story in a still image, and a body
of images can only create a swarm of narrative elements, at best. While
I understand that there is "a mythology that’s been developed over 10
years
" to
be found in Hancock’s paintings, I believe we need to judge things for
what they are. Mythology is NOT narrative. Mythology might include
narrative, or be embedded in it, but they are different concepts. There
is an inescapable maxim in narrative: "show, don’t tell." Hancock,
Mills and Reynolds unfortunately only show the thinnest thread of a
story and rely on the program notes to impart the questionable
relevance of the white guys fighting the black guys. And I’m not even
going to delve into the ideological problems I have with Hancock’s
mythology because Sanford says it better than I could.



Ballet,
and modern dance, are not great at conveying information. The most
fluid movement still cannot compete with a few words, a well painted
tableau, a smart composition, apropos lighting. It is the choreographer
and director’s job to create the elements and conditions for the
optimal transfer of information between the stage and the audience.
However, Mills did not use the stage to create fluid compositions. The
action was blocky and lacked nuance, was relegated to selected areas
and somewhat rudimentary. The costumes, while quite well made, were not
inhabited by the performers. Did you notice how the dancers never
"looked" at things with the character eyes? They wore big hats with
eyes in them. It’s a lazy flaw, to not move with the costumes. The sets
were not elements of a story used to support a narrative, they were
literally just backdrops, lifeless colorful shapes plopped on stage.
The lighting was subpar at best. Modern technology makes it simple to
trigger lighting cues with the push of a button. But cues were missed
more than once, expectations were set up by a few repetitions and then
forgotten. Reynolds’ score, while pretty good, screamed "MODERN
DANCE!!!
" a little too loudly.
 
The background



I think a lot of the praise can be attributed to interdisciplinary tunnel vision:




The Art Crowd
: "I don’t understand dance and never go to the ballet, but isn’t it great? It’s just like Hancock’s paintings!"


The Dance Crowd
: "I barely ever go to museums or attend art events, but
isn’t modern dance multifaceted and inclusive? How wonderful!"




And to round out the post, here is a link to a review of the ballet by
Spike Gillespie
for Austinist.com , the most egregious blowjob of a
"review" I’ve seen outside of neighborhood association pamphlets in a
long time.









 

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9 Responses

  1. davidaylsworth

    Good luck, Bill! I sure don’t envy you in this… Does it put any more pressure on you to know that I think you’re wrong about Tony Cragg’s misfire has far from disappeared? I’m pretty sure that it’s been on continuous display outside of the High Museum ever since it was created for the Olympics there. It might have gotten taken inside when they did their expansion and campus renovation a year or so ago, but I used to see it every time I went to Atlanta, and shook my head anew each time I remembered it was his…
    His three goofy heads down by the Hobby Center, though, do his reputation well. They’re easily my favorite public sculpture in Houston. (although I realize that I’m far in a minority on that one…)

  2. Rainey

    I’ve always believed performing arts and visual arts audiences hardly overlap at all, which is one reason why interdisciplinary collaborations rarely happen, and even more rarely work.

  3. Tanana

    glad to read a criticism of this piece. i had a lot of problems with the choreography and the music as well. it all felt overly ZANY! QUIRKY! and i thought that ballet was not the best way to deliver the “story” of trent’s work.

  4. tobrienwriter

    Sanford’s break-down seems to nail it.
    Where’s William Blake when you need him? The land of the Cult of Color needs a visit from Chuang Tse or Dogen.
    I am deeply suspect of art stepping into these kinds of literal mythic/narrative operations, and I’m not a fan of this work, at any level: formally, whathaveyou. Leave it to Dr Seuss and Maurice Sendak. Ten years in the making – makes me feel like I should just keep my mouth shut. That’s an investment.
    I hope someone can write a compelling apology for the work. I’d like to understand if there’s something, some subtlety, that I’m missing.

  5. Tanana

    Well, it helps if you grew up in a strict religious household. Then if you smoke a bowl and watch a movie like Hellboy or Gremlins. I didn’t so much have a problem with the story of Trent’s paintings, or the story that was portrayed in the ballet. I just didn’t think that the music or the strict form of ballet could properly portray what Trent is after. Perhaps animation or a movie…

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