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In Performance: Neal Medlyn, I HEART PINA (American Realness)

Neal Medlyn
American Realness, Abrons Arts Center
January 11-16

“I feel weird about Pina Bausch and I feel weird about dance and I feel weird about romance and I feel weird about being a fan. I’m mainly interested in two things from Pina Bausch’s work: fandom and romance.” So starts the program note to Neal Medlyn’s I <3 PINA, words that are also projected during the performance. Behind almost the entirety of the performance is a constant, slow scroll of words, a fascinating wealth of context to Medlyn’s latest creation. Much of Medlyn’s work has dealt with celebrity, and I <3 PINA, focusing on the legendary dancer, of course does, too. As Medlyn writes, it certainly deals with fandom and romance, but to put it another way, it also deals with legacy and deep loneliness, at times exceptionally personally.

I <3 PINA consists of what could, in homage to Baush, be called a series of skits. The first is a clip from the TV show “The Bachelorette,” in which the Bachelorette and a male contestant dance together as an orchestra plays and a soloist sings, intercut with the male contestant reflecting emotionally on the experience. But Medlyn has removed the TV clip’s sound and replaced it with Tchaikovsky, giving it a truly epic feel: a contemporary, slightly twisted example, perhaps–per Bausch instruction–of two people agreeing to love each other for thirty seconds. This is mashed up against Medlyn singing over a Rhianna song, as Maggie Cloud moves through choreography adapted from Bausch (by Gillian Walsh, with contributions from Cloud and Hannah Wischnewski), and text first appears on the upstage wall. The text is a soaring collection of experiences and reflections–a silent, intimate, and moving support for the magnetic Medlyn and Cloud and all that they do. The text delves into Medlyn’s process for making the piece, including some of his research into Bausch, his “dates” with dance and Bausch admirers, and the path the show took to premiere in Germany in 2017. It also includes scholarly and amateur critique of Bausch and her career and, in a way, a self-critique of Medlyn’s, too. As Medlyn and Cloud move through sections ranging from the precisely choreographed to the improvised, it all adds up to so much: about fandom, romance, legacy, loneliness, and even more. For I <3 PINA is reverent and irreverent and honest and transcendent, derived from Bausch but worthy of a legacy all its own.

Photo: Gillian Walsh

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