The DI, Year One: Full Frontal — Tolentino Bottoms Out; Finley Scares the Shit Out….

By Maura Nguyen Donohue
Copyright 2000, 2017 Maura Nguyen Donohue

(Editor’s Note: Officially launched on Valentine’s Day, 2000, the Dance Insider Flash Review offered a new, artist-centered approach to dance criticism. In this Flash, first published on October 10, 2000 and reproduced here thanks to sponsors Slippery Rock University Dance and Freespace Dance,  fearless performing meets fearless reviewing.  Subscribe to the Dance Insider for just $29.95/year ($99 for institutions gets full access for all your teachers, students, dance company members, etc.) and receive full access to our Archive of 2,000 exclusive reviews by 150 leading  critics of performances on five continents from 1998 through 2015. Just designate your PayPal payment in that amount to paulbenitzak@gmail.com, or write us at that address to learn how to pay by check or in Euros. You can also purchase a complete copy of the Archives for just $49 (individuals) or $129 (institutions) Purchase before March 14, 2017 and receive a second, free copy for the recipient of your choice. Contact Paul at paulbenitzak@gmail.com .)

NEW YORK — On Saturday night I was eagerly expecting a down and dirty double header with Julie Tolentino’s “The Bottom Project” at the Kitchen and Karen Finley’s “Shut up and Love Me” Late Nite at P.S. 122. In the end I wasn’t disappointed. In the beginning I was.

Julie Tolentino’s bio reads like the personal ad for the girl I always wanted to marry. This is a woman who credits her tattoo artists in her bio, has appeared in videos for Chaka Khan and Diamanda Galas and in Madonna’s SEX book, founded the Clit Club/nyc, performed with Ron Athey, spent 10 years as a senior member of David Rousseve/REALITY and she’s hapa (half- Asian) to boot. Having seen her in Rousseve’s “Love Songs” at the Brooklyn Academy of Music I already knew what an engaging performer and excellent dancer she is. I’d caught glimpses of her earlier work “MESTIZA — Que Bonitos Ojos Tienes” on video at the Intersection II conference so I was eager to see what she’d come up with from the bottom.

The cavern of the Kitchen matched the fantastic design work to create a space inaccessible by any road map. Tolentino and Jet Clark create a striking installation with evocative set design. Catherine Gund’s video, David Ferri’s lighting, Julie Fowell’s live violin, Killer’s heart attack-inducing live percussion, sound compositions by Aldo Hernandez and Killer, and Bernard Elsmere’s (F100) live computer synthesis and sound installation all worked towards pulling the audience into an eerie internal world. The work is full of haunting image after surreal image after psychedelic image after beautiful image. There’s Julie with her head bound in rope, there’s three bodies suspended and spinning, there’s a bloody hand, there’s a chorus of hair thrashing, there’s Julie sticking pins in her arm, there’s a woman enclosed in a square Plexiglas column slowly being covered by a dropping stream of dust for almost the entire duration of the work, there’s a body submerged in a sphere of milk, there’s a woman on a slowly deflating bed, there’s Julie pummeled by dropping rice. It was like the trailer for a dream except of course in dream time. However, like in a dream the images did not add up to any recognizable whole. The large cast worked hard to enliven and engage, and Tolentino’s all too brief bouts of movement were delicious morsels, but the overall atmosphere of the work seemed intentionally distant and emotionless.

As an evening, though, it all balanced out once confronted with the overwhelming intimacy of “Shut Up and Love Me.” Note: This review is rated R for language, adult content and explicit sexual imagery. NEA Censors beware…. Karen Finley is a relentless force. She is a performer who constantly shifts between a state of ‘on’ and a state of ‘ON!’ From the moment she appears masturbating in a tight red dress and high black heels to the moment just before exiting, naked and covered in honey, she is a blatant and unapologetic torrent of the psycho and the sexual.

Finley’s demolishing of the mother- and father- fucking Oedipus and Electra complexes begins with an assault. She dances, rubs and thrusts her way through the audience after delivering a spectacular boob ballet. She slices through tales of a woman overcome by historically female neuroses with a razor-sharp wit and intense self awareness. We skip across her psychic landscape and through unexpected time warps as she portrays, or sometimes simply recounts, sexual propositions to Daddy and Vietnam vets. Her powerful performance lies not only in her outrageous inappropriateness in speech or deed but also in her ability to turn her fantastic-unkempt-red-hair-long-legged-small-waisted-well-breasted body into an instrument of terror. Whether she is barking like a dog, enacting a tongue-sucking dance, or, even, playfully rolling in honey she is a demon caught in corporeal glory. Sharing the same space with her is frightening, exhausting and exhilarating. This work is alive and scares the shit out me. That Finley’s work is still considered explicit and shocking is a startling reminder of how far women’s sexual liberation has still not come. It makes me grossly aware of my own passivity in a realm I’d considered myself to have been a ruler of sorts. And I’m not talking about the concert stage.

“Shut Up and Love Me” continues this Friday and Saturday, with shows at 11 p.m.

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