Written and Directed by Lucca Damilano
Produced by Untitled Theatre Collective
Part of the 2017 FRIGID New York Festival
Off Off Broadway, Play
Runs through 3.3.17
Kraine Theater, 85 East 4th Street
by Ran Xia on 3.2.17
Talia Moreta in An Evening Conference... Photo by Lorraine Tai.
BOTTOM LINE: An ensemble-driven iconoclastic Dada performance that showcases the art and ideas of rebellious female Dadaists while drawing attention to the present.
There’s a sense of mystifying dissent evoked by the ensemble of Lucca Damilano’s abstract-expressionist poem of a play. They enter, five enchanting females, each repeating the word “Dada” in a different rhythm, singing it on a tentative octave, whispering it with a palpable hunger. The five nameless figures will gradually, over the course of the filled-to-the-brim hour of performance art, become defined as five of the many iconic female Dadaists who influenced the play. One need not do homework to appreciate the show; however, some context might help if one wishes to recognize the show’s many collage elements.
It's post-WWI Zurich—July 14th, 1916. Hugo Ball is debuting the first Dada manifesto, and Europe is in a state of mania, which typically becomes topsoil for artistic expression. By this point Kafka had dreamt of his anthropomorphic bug; Rilke had tirelessly stitched together painfully beautiful verses; and the infamous armory show of 1913 had caused admiration (from Gertrude Stein) and outrage (from pretty much everyone else) in New York City. The Abstract Expressionists of Germany had overthrown the reign of their Fauvist predecessors, and with the untimely death of Franz Marc, the connection between those two movements had become more of a jagged rip than a smooth gradient.
Like the spirit of Dada itself, An Evening Conference seems to be born out of chaos. Writer-Director Damilano fully embraces the unapologetic essence of Dadaism as an art form and creates a beast that can only be fully understood with gut instincts, rather than intellect. The piece centers around five iconic female Dadaists. Hannah Hoch (whose photo/video montages were seen in 2nd Stage's Blue Flower in 2011) is one, embodied with a menacing allure by Alexa Welch. There is also Emmy Hennings (Lorraine Tai) who was Hugo Ball’s wife and the co-founder of Cabaret Voltaire; Toyen (Talia Moreta), a trans-woman Dadaist, Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven (Belinda Adam); and Mina Loy (Sarah Gwynne Walker). Each performer conjures the spirit of her muse in style. Other female Dadaists who informed the piece include: Clara Tice, Florine Stettheimer, Germaine Everling, Beatrice Wood, Suzanne Duchamp, Katherine Sophie Dreier, Rose Selavy, Sophie Taeuber-Arp, Juliette Roche, Gabrielle Buffet, and Céline Arnauld.
Adam and Moreta’s electrifying choreography enriches and perfects the tempo of the piece: one of the highlights is Tai and Moreta’s duet of a breathtaking, Sappho-rrific tango. Walker, lastly, is a force to be reckoned with. She takes the stage with both an instinctual ease and magnetic precision, and has the capacity to exhibit the animalistic desire of a Dadaist from absolutely mechanical movements.
In An Evening Conference, it becomes apparent that Dada is a primitive force: it represents the voices of rebels who compose an anthem of resistance. However, it is more importantly a feminine force: it does not destroy, but rather disrupts and sets in motion new beginnings; the connections it forms between drastically different ideas come from salvaged materials and inspirations. It expresses the spirit of things, and because of its nonsensical nature, rejects dishonesty and pretension. The unfortunate reality, however, is that the names of its female pioneers are often erased.
It’s a truly rewarding experience then, to find oneself marinated in the energy that comes from the same place where new life is formed. There’s a kind of exchange that happens after an hour spent with those five iconoclastic ladies: you won’t be getting an entertaining story, although the show has well-timed comedic moments. You won’t even get a concrete idea of what the show is about—that is not the creator’s purpose. It’s not a show made for someone who needs a tangible plot, but if you are someone who is willing to follow a glimpse of an idea, you might well find yourself enraptured by the beauty of Dada, a style that aims to inspire rather than impress, to converse rather than convince.
It is also highly relevant to revisit the Dada manifesto in 2017, when the existential dread caused by the world’s overall political climate is balanced by the women who persist. Dadaism was the fever that burned with the affliction of the time that gave birth to it. Like a mythical creature that accompanies bad omens, it shrills without a melody and sometimes shows an ugly sight, yet it’s also a signal of hope for all those who stay vigilant.
(An Evening Conference on Feminism and Equality at Large at the Fantabulosa Esoteric Cabaret Dada plays at the Kraine Theater, 85 East 4th Street, through March 3, 2017. The running time is one hour. Performances are Thu 2/16 at 8:50, Wed 2/22 at 8:50, Tue 2/28 at 5:30, Wed 3/1 at 10:30, and Fri 3/3 at 8:30. Tickets are $20, $15 for students/seniors/military, and are available at FRIGIDNewYork.info.)
An Evening Conference on Feminism and Equality at Large at the Fantabulosa Esoteric Cabaret Dada is written and directed by Lucca Damilano. Choreography is by Belinda Adam and Talia Moreta. Production Design is by Lucca Damilano. Costume and Sound Design is Allyson Steele. Stage Manager is Darielle Shandler.
The cast is Alexa Welch, Belinda Adam, Talia Moreta, Lorraine Tai, and Sarah Gwynne Walker.