All words Words by Deena O. Hyatt
All photos by Shauna Alexander
The Dunes was packed in anticipation for the 3-Act Presentation “IF or IF” – A Kool Raunch Collective multidisciplinary performance directed by dancer and choreographer Sebastian Rousseau and presented by ReadySetDC. The audience, a well-dressed heterogeneous blend of art people, theatre people, moms and dads, showed that Kool Raunch Collective can bring out many walks of life. The open bar probably didn’t hurt either.
Two microphones on opposite ends of a long table await. Adrian Parsons, wearing a white lab coat and a theatrical hand-painted Venetian mask, takes his place behind the table. Storytellers, Andrew Bucket and Catalina Lavalle, approach their microphone knowingly waiting as Parsons takes out a bottle of red wine, gives each a glass and begins to pour. They drink their wine, but instead of placing the glasses back on the table, they curiously tuck them under their armpits as Parsons produces yet another two glasses out and pours again. Lavalle begins her story. In an otherwise alienating atmosphere of white lab coats, the human voice draws us into the ancient art of storytelling. Memories of her high school first love unfold as she becomes increasingly intoxicated. This very long-winded diary entry of mundane heartbreak with a heavy undercurrent of insecure projections just doesn’t seem to be ending. This truly is an endurance test.
Meanwhile, Bucket listens and they are both still drinking and trying to tuck more and more glasses under their arms until… CRASH. Bucket drops a glass and we hear a searing shatter. Then I notice another man in a white lab coat, Legba Carrefour, sprawled out on the floor with a microphone capturing every last note of the crash sound as man another man in a white lab coat, Ivan Khilko, stands behind a laptop sampling the live sound and putting it through effects. (Ivan Khilko did all the original music and sound for the show). As the story goes on, more and more glasses shatter and the shards are collected in a box around the storytellers feet. Kashuo Bennett, architect and sculpture, built the boxes and designed the minimal installation set.
Each standing in their boxes, the two performers are almost on their third bottle of wine when Bucket begins his coming of age story involving thrill seeking danger and exploration. And death. (A subject that bleakly culminated Lavalle’s story).
Bucket sweeps and arches through time and space in his equally long-winded story while glasses continue to crash and the men in lab coats continue to document everything. Bucket spills red wine on the white tablecloth and Parsons takes his white lab coat and cleans it off, leaving red stains on his sleeve.
The lights dim, and the men in white lab coats undergo an aesthetically pleasing ceremony, shedding light upon the glass shards with dancing shadows on the wall. With one on each side of the long black cloth, they bring all glass together, like a collective memory of shattered experiences, and close the black cloth around it with the bulb still burning. Parsons announces in an innocuous but authoritative tone, “intermission.”
So where do you go from there? Well, if you are director Sebastian Rousseau, you change gears entirely. The Second Act has no words and engages the physical dimension only. Rousseau and fellow dancer Corey Landolt take the stage for a stirring modern dance rendition. The kinesthetic frenetic energy fills the space, immediately giving me goose bumps and causing me to drop my pen and forget about taking notes.
Let’s pause for a second and talk about Kool Raunch collective. Rousseau has been dancing since he was 4 years old. Fast-forward twenty some years, he has an injury and fears for his profession and probably his identity too. Rousseau then asks his friend, artist and activist, Adrian Parsons, “What will I do now?” And Parsons responds, “make art.” Kool Raunch Collective launched soon after, in 2010, as a multi-disciplinary outlet and collaborative affair. Rousseau states, “The collective seeks to develop new works which integrate dance and movement with conceptual art, theatre and original music. Their scope ranges from large collaborative theatrical works to minimalist performative installations. We are committed to challenging conventions concerning performance categories and settings.”
Rousseau did heal and does dance now. As a result of this past injury he has expanded his scope, method and presentation. “IF or IF” is the first piece where Rousseau plays the role of the director, dancer and choreographer.
When asked which role he prefers, Rousseau says, “I’m a dancer rediscovering being a dancer. Choreography is new to me and Corey had a lot of influence in this show. We did it together.”
Corey Landolt, in his fourth season with The Washington Ballet, and Rousseau, who studied dance at the Hamburg Ballet School in Germany, enter the scene blind folded. The men in lab coats manipulate them for a spell and then they embark on an exploration bringing to mind body memory. Without visions, you must ask how much are they relying on their body memory or on their kinesthetic intuition to achieve these moves? And, as they touch, how much are they relaying on each other? Landolt and Rousseau dance beautifully together, but differently. Landolt’s more subtle movements and quiet gestures contrast well with Rousseau’s more animated and passionate style of dance. All in front of a backdrop of projections from the security camera planted outside, we can’t escape the media and technology implications in each act.
Landolt leaves the room and Rousseau is left alone. The original music and sound explorations by Ivan Khilko (also in a white lab coat) lowers in volume to emphasize the moment. Now we can hear Rousseau’s breath and movement. Through the security camera, we see Landolt’s reflection in the door as he puts his shoes on. He goes outside and begins dancing. Again, they are dancing together, but apart. The feeling of detachment from the one not in the room, but on the camera, remained present. When they switched places, this was still the case.
The medium of story telling returns in the Third Act with veteran Kevin Boggs (who helped coach all the storytellers) and newcomer Haleh Pedrem as they confess stories of HIV and abortion but manage to delivery it with humor. Meanwhile the scientists are on the side whispering to each other over their clipboards. Khilko’s sonic manipulations of their voices, though subtle and intentional in the first act, are more and more clumsy and the effects become distracting. You can’t help but feel like technology is starting to interfere with the inertia of the story and with the human voice. It is also a confession of collaboration. One told this story alone and now there are others adding more elements and more layers.
This didn’t feel like going to the theatre where everything is completely staged and rehearsed many times. The concepts were in tact and elements aligned but there was room for it to be an experience in and of itself: a one time only performance.
Khilko’s sound explorations reach a mind-fucking cacophony as the story tellers repeat, “I thought I was going to die.” The dancers return and take their places, waiting. Rousseau gives a sharp look at Khilko and soon the music calms down. The dancers engage in a modern dance fight and bring the multi-disciplinary performance to a close.
For the first act Rousseau says he was thinking a lot about the concept of memory criterion. “No one else could have your memories, but what if your memory fails, memory is merely a vessel- you can never replicate it again.” In the second act he addresses the genetic, materialist position and deals with synchronistic intuition. The third act, he says, “it’s everything to the max.” The curious “IF or IF” title emerged from a google voice transcription (more back story in the preview on DC Performance Art). Rousseau explains, “I saw the abyss of objectivity. It began with a long table and two people on each end. If or if, could be anything.”
Kool Raunch Collective brought a heaping scope of experimental entertainment filled with talent. Rousseau’s ambitious conceptual vision came across to create a captivating experience and mind-bending memory. It was great to see ReadySetStage’s first show attract a full house; they did a great job promoting it. I sure am looking forward to more hybrid multi-disciplinary acts blending so many creative forms and more from Kool Raunch Collective. In fact, looks like they’ll be a part of BLOWOUT! : DC’s Performance Art Festival on July 16th. It truly is an exciting time for the arts in DC.