CounterPulse’s residency programs cover a lot of conceptual ground. In 2017, they’ve produced the “edge,” the “combustible,” and now the “diaspora” residencies, where two different artists or groups give us an evening of performance often form-fitted to the company’s Tenderloin space. Despite the thematic overlay, what you get always feels idiosyncratic, human, and alive to a vast variety of experiences.
In many ways the series is a sly and casual inversion of what we’ve come to understand as the epic. There are no superheroes or villains, no cities under threat of alien invasion, no CGI of worlds at war and vast armies. Instead, there’s a simple understanding that to experience the epic, we have to identify with its opposite -- the lost traveller (Odysseus), the scared child (Huckleberry Finn), the harried bureaucrat (Joseph K.), anyone who feels the vastness of our everyday world and is at its mercy.
And so Performing Diaspora 2017 offers to great effect two delicate heroes -- the son, and specifically the idea of the son, in Javier Stell-Frésquez, Ivan “Ivy” Monteiro, and Davia Spain’s Mother The Verb, and a lonely witness to atrocity in choreographer Randy Reyes’ Lxs Desaparecidxs.
'Mother the Verb
At first, Mother The Verb has the feel of a performance art stunt. Stell-Frésquez stands next to a coatrack in the CounterPulse lobby with a sign that says, “Dress Me As My Authentic Self.” Let’s just say he has quite a roving eye for the clothing of random audience members. Escape that trap and you’ll find yourself face-to-face with Monteiro (camped out on the theater’s risers) in a massive wig of wavy black hair and two plastic spray cans taped to his chest, spouting lines seemingly swiped from any number of nightmare mother plays -- “I’m done trying to make you comfortable, fit in!”
In an audience discussion afterwards, the performers were vaguely surprised that everyone seemed a little wary during the prologue. They might underestimate the intensity of their personas, the way their commitment to the moment verges on what feels like a brutal psychic break with the world. Nothing that follows would dispel that notion.