By Dan Safer / Witness Relocation
Off Off Broadway, Dance
Ran through 5.19.19
La Mama's Ellen Stewart Theater, 66 East 4th Street
by Ran Xia on 5.22.19
Ae Andreas and Dan Safer in Surveys the Prairie of Your Room. Photo by Maria Baranova.
BOTTOM LINE: Dan Safer / Witness Relocation's gorgeously choreographed piece brings about some fascinating questions on the complicated forces within all of us.
Dan Safer / Witness Relocation’s Surveys the Prairie of Your Room is a riveting mixture of whimsical, sinister, and visceral. It’s not something you’d enjoy if you’re looking for a straightforward, linear narrative. But if you’re willing to let your mind wander and allow yourself to complete a creative process, it is a satisfying experience. It’s an abstract enough piece that it might mean completely different things to everyone who sees it, but there are still some elements that reach toward a kind of universality.
Staged within the small rectangular space underneath Ellen Stuart theatre’s seating risers, the piece is presented with casualness (Safer even takes time to say that if he ends up tossing his jacket to us inside out, we’d better “fix it”). But it is nevertheless disciplined and captivating as soon as the hyper-precise movement starts. WR company member Ae Andeas is a Bowie-like presence who guides us into this loose narrative that seems to happen in a hotel room. The soundtrack consists of music by Heather Christian, but also Grace McLean’s voice in the role of a staff at this peculiar hotel (text written by Kate Scelsa), which provides services including reading magazine articles aloud to help you sleep.
In an interesting juxtaposition, this calm, relaxing speech track accompanies one of the most mercurial duets I’ve seen. Safer and Andreas’ mutually reflective, often symmetrical choreography evokes a tempestuous relationship: are they lovers, mortal enemies, or two sides of the same character? For those who understand the chronic experience of an insomniac, the constant struggle between the two forces also may evoke the restless mind before sleep, something reinforced because the speech is also reminiscent of those ASMR role-play videos.
But perhaps even that is a metaphor. At the end of the vocal track, the invisible speaker challenges us to think about why we constantly over-complicate things. It becomes quite moving when the track points out how simple everything really is. We spend such a big part of our lives stuck in tumultuous relationships, with other people as well as with ourselves. We exhaust ourselves with constant self-doubt, and we fight ourselves to the ground for no good reason other than overthinking. So perhaps what the piece is exploring, or asking its audience to do, is to slow down and imagine the possibilities—of prairies in your own room perhaps?
One of my favorite elements is how seamlessly Surveys the Prairie of Your Room exists both in a public space, as well as an extremely private and intimate one. There are also a few interesting design elements worth pondering. On the back of the two performers’ shirts, one reads "Will all the cacti find a home?" And the other: "The mobile spins to its collision." Such seemingly innocuous questions are just open-ended enough to provide the mental focus needed to process the piece’s otherwise abstract narrative style.
(Surveys the Prairie of Your Room played at La Mama Ellen Stewart Theatre, 66 East 4th Street, on May 18 and May 19, 2019. The running time was 35 minutes with no intermission. Tickets were $25. For more information visit lamama.org.)
Surveys the Prairie of Your Room is by Dan Safer / Witness Relocation. Score by Heather Christian. Original Text by Kate Scelsa. Voiceover by Grace McLean.
The cast is Dan Safer and Ae Andreas.