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In Performance: AmeriSHOWZ, Circle of Champions 2017 (American Realness)

American Realness
Circle of Champions 2017
Gibney Dance: Agnes Varis Performing Arts Center
280 Broadway

Jan 6 – 8pm
Jan 7 – 8pm
Jan 8 – 8pm

AmeriSHOWZ, the brainchild of choreographer Alex Rodabaugh, advertises itself as “one of the world’s largest direct performance selling businesses.” If you’re confused as to what exactly this might mean, don’t worry: the AmeriSHOWZ team is here to explain it to you. Clad in professional black outfits, Rodabaugh and dancers Ashley Handel, John Hoobyar and Lily Bo Shapiro step out in front of the audience, welcoming us enthusiastically to this training session. AmeriSHOWZ, we learn from these earnest representatives, allows you to buy tickets to a variety of performances (advertised “brands” include Meg Stuart, Miguel Gutierrez, and Trajal Harrell) at wholesale prices, then resell them to others at retail price, leaving you to pocket the difference. What an opportunity! This is sharply observed and gleefully executed, but Rodabaugh is up to something more than satire. By placing our consumption of live art into the context of what appears to be a pyramid scheme, the performance raises issues of both commodification and long-term economic sustainability.

The cheerful irony of this opening section lays the foundation for an increasingly sophisticated investigation into the relationship between arts and commerce. The second part of the evening, entitled “SUBMIT™ – Product Analysis and Quality Assurance Program,” seems to stage the rat race of capitalism (and/or the scramble for arts funding): the four dancers (now in prominently branded athletic gear) hold distorted, unbalanced poses while distributing and collecting color-coded dollar bills in some kind of inscrutably specific elimination challenge. The apparent victor (Rodabaugh in the performance I attended) begins a solo that appears more straightforward, more liberated, than anything we have seen so far. As he dances, however, the other performers return and construct four walls around him in real time, gradually obscuring him until he is completely hidden from our view.

We are left with the image of a performer in an all-white room that no one can see into. Is this an institutional critique, pointing out a lack of access to “white box” commercial art spaces? The target seems even broader, calling attention to an economic system that fundamentally fails not just artists, but almost everyone in it. What happens when everything is reduced to its money-making potential? Who profits off of our work? Rodabaugh and his collaborators have created something both entertaining and urgent, critical and compelling. (Particular credit is due to Andy Kuncl’s score and Aviva Novick’s set, both of which are integral to the performance’s impact.) At the very end of the piece, the lights plunge out and the performers begin a brief a capella number. “Don’t wake the dreamer,” they sing with increasing insistence. Consider us awakened.

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Philip Wesley Gates is a director, performance maker, and writer/scholar currently based in Pittsburgh. Deploying queer, choreographic, and participatory strategies, their work proposes alternative possibilities and modes of relation. They hold an MFA in Directing from Carnegie Mellon University.

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