Three Perspectives, Kool Raunch Collective
Texts by Eames Armstrong, Deena O. Hyatt, and Brigid O’Brien
For months, I was preemptively disappointed that I would miss Kool Raunch Collective’s performance at The Dunes. I first met Adrian Parsons and Sebastian Rousseau through the Soapbox performance art series that I program at Hillyer Art Space. I saw documentation and read about their performance last September at 1337 Vernissage right around when I started at Hillyer. I got them into Soapbox for December, and they will be participating in Blowout! DC Performance Art Festival this Saturday, June 16. Knowing that I wouldn’t be around for Kool Raunch’s “If or If” performance at The Dunes, I recruited some writers. Deena O. Hyatt and Brigid O’Brien both attended the performance, and their very thoughtful responses are below.
Kool Raunch's Soapbox was Friday, December 9, 2011, the second day of Adrian’s twenty-five day hunger strike for DC voting rights. Their piece, “Work With an Odor Best Discerned by a Pig” consisted of a live-stream projection of Adrian and three fellow hunger strikers at the Occupy encampment at McPherson Square, in front of which Sebastian Rousseau ate as many “Kool Ranch” Doritos as he could before running to the bathroom to puke, loudly. The performance was meant to be an eating competition like the kind we’re inundated with on tv, through such classic shows a Man v. Food. Video of the performance is available here.
Sebastian’s fit dancer’s body (in a dirty denim apron?) was in stark contrast to the absolute garbage he was forcing himself to eat. Addressing excess through the absurd, the dichotomy of hunger strike and eating competition was pretty clear. Technology figured pretty significantly in the performance as well. For the projection they used the free live-stream site Ustream. The live-stream was available publicly online throughout the duration of his strike for accountability of his fast, it was not broadcast just for Soapbox. Additionally, throughout the piece Adrian and Sebastian were communicating via text-message, maintaining a private dialogue in contrast to the public streaming video and live performance. The statement for the piece concluded, “As all expeditions of human will are, the result is either carefully crafted or absolutely uncertain.”
Move forward to May, the next Kool Raunch performance I saw was “Pavlovsk” at Transformer as part of the Bread and Butter exhibition curated by Carolina Maryorga. Mayorga is a multi-disciplinary artist, who has also performed at Soapbox and will make an appearance at Blowout. For their performance at Transformer, Adrian dropped dead fish into a clear container, the size and shape of a gallery pedestal. Sebastian stood shirtless watching, Adrian put a speaker “lid” on the box and retreated behind him, somewhat obscured by a video monitor, where he controlled the noisey speaker output. Adrian dropped seed, wheat, beans, and corn individually onto the pulsing speaker, and Sebastian responded with specific movement. See the video here and more images here. Similar to their Soapbox performance, there was an underlying theme of control. At Soapbox, Adrian directed Sebastian’s performance remotely, writing the piece as a simple directive that Sebastian completed and improvised through. In “Pavlovsk” this was even more overt, as Adrian controlled Sebastians movement through the speed and volume of the noise and with how much seed, wheat, beans, or corn he dumped out. It started to feel like Adrian was teasing Sebastian, playing with him and playing him and Sebastian struggled to keep the irregular pace.
Transformer is a very small space, not very conducive to theatrical performance, but to its advantage a very intimate space. At the conclusion of their piece, without a backstage to turn to, the two just bluntly opened up the floor for questions. Which meant that the very effusive Sebastian full of performance adrenaline began to excitedly speak about his own experience performing the piece, and the two laid out their intentions and interpretation. Which was nice to hear, but sort of killed the piece. “Pavlovsk” was pretty heavy, and being immediately told what it was about didn’t leave me a lot of time to digest it. The performance ended much more successfully and wonderfully at Soapbox, when from the bathroom after puking up several bags of doritos and the live-stream is still being projected, the air heavy with synthetic scent of Kool Ranch, Sebastian yells, “Time!”
For Blowout, Kool Raunch Collective will be presenting a durational piece called "Raunch Beach."
The following texts I had written following Kool Raunch's June 2, 2012 performance "If or If" at The Dunes for DCPerformanceArt.tumblr. Deena O. Hyatt wrote a preview of the performance as well, which can be found here. A version of her response was also posted on Brightest Young Things on June 6, 2012 with images by Shauna Alexander.
“If or If” Response by Brigid O’Brien
Unfortunately for anyone who agrees to accompany me to an exceptional museum art exhibit, I will always have a need to re-enter and reassess it two, maybe three times, before I call it a day. For the hours that follow a search for words to hold conversation can be a real struggle. Any remarkable performance leaves me without the option of physically reassessing, and usually without words—but with some kind of luck I was invited to share a little write-up of Kool Raunch Collective’s performance last Saturday at the Dunes. You may be able to imagine the challenge I’ve had, after sitting for the length of a feature film, marinating beneath each layer and dimension of weighty concepts. I really had no choice but to let it soak in for a few days.
The origins of this performance were of epistemology and questions of identity, as Deena O. Hyatt mentioned in her post prior to the performance. A grand projection of the intangible offered the audience a chance to examine these questions through slight answers, to take a walk around this thing we all encounter as human beings. Attached, naturally, to the subject are themes of mortality, sexuality, and death. Appropriately, the performance seemed to be segmented roughly according to these and related themes. It was flanked by spoken acts— activated by surreal conversation style, and settled in traditional storytelling mode. This rendering continued not without choreographed movement, a suitable vehicle for its content. Here, dialogue and dance worked in communion to delineate such an organic theme through an equally organic fashion.
The idea of a knowledge of mortality and its effects on our humanity was demonstrated by performers Catalina Lavalle and Andrew Bucket through a vulnerable state. Brutal memories of profound significance for each were shared in conversation, along with three bottles of wine. Glasses were not reused, but fresh ones were used, and glasses were not collected on the table, but by their sides, beneath their arms. As the weight of the glasses in their arms became too much they had no choice but to let go; with each glass shattered against the stage floor, a clear representation was shown of the many burdens each of us faces within our own lives. Within the last 60 seconds of each relation, a truth was revealed—one that ensured that the speakers’ lives would never be lived the same way again. Following this, the pieces of glass were collected and illuminated, and then violently put to darkness, stunningly seeming to objectify what had just been vocalized.
The foundation of these powerful monologues was fortified by the impressive, intermittent choreographic element introduced post-parlance. Allowing the audience to survey the routine much like a poetic stanza, comrades Sebastian Rousseau and Corey Landolt operated the dance in contemporary format, wearing all black as they mirrored and fought each other, conjuring a sensory relation to the verbal aspect. Perhaps a catalyst for expressing combative or dueling aspects of an identity, it was this that allowed concepts to fasten to each other to create a platform of sudden apprehension.
The postliminary segment of storytelling invited the digestion of sexuality, death, and the complete turbulence that amounts to what is human life, which often times can be presented appropriately through humorous irony. These narratives were presented in a simple manner, with occasional assistance of technological highlighting; crucial sounds and phrases were capitalized with Ivan Khilko’s original sound manipulation. Distinguishable was the fact that these stories were cases of having acquired identity through specific experience, and both were instances that should have maintained endings of relief, but rather retained a feeling of death.
As time was waning and the performance was slowing to an apparent close, the two storytellers shared with each other, and shared with the audience a simple phrase: “I thought I was going to die…” A phrase so simple, but so laden with complexity became magnified under the layers of synthetic echoing, as it would also become magnified organically in each viewer’s mind. Almost a personification of this urgency, the dancers moved accordingly in summation.
Without even having to be told, it was very apparent to me that “If or If”, directed by dancer and choreographer Sebastian Rousseau, was a result of months of work. While a level of improv was apparent throughout the production, skill and detail seemed to largely assist in the articulation of intent. Fortunately for the present portion of the D.C. population, the standard, the potential, and the attached social responsibility of performance art has been reassessed.
“If or If” response by Deena O. Hyatt
The Dunes was packed in anticipation for the 3-Act Presentation “IF or IF” - A Kool Raunch Collective multidisciplinary performance directed by dancer and choreographer Sebastian Rousseau and presented by ReadySetDC. The audience, a well-dressed heterogeneous blend of art people, theatre people, moms and dads, showed that Kool Raunch Collective can bring out many walks of life. The open bar probably didn't hurt either. Eight pm rolled around (the advertised starting time) and there was no sign of a show yet. What should we expect? Who’s in charge here? Nerves were extra sensitive in the full house.
Around 8:30 three men in white lab coats appeared. Are they in charge? The lights flickered, and the audience began to hush. A table draped with white cloth stood atop a long black fabric with two squares on each side and two microphones, waiting. Adrian Parsons, one of the white lab coats, took the stage, moving to his place behind the table, preparing the scene. (He must be the one in charge.) Parsons wore a theatrical hand-painted Venetian mask making the scene all the more estranging. The storytellers, Andrew Bucket and Catalina Lavalle, toko their places standing on each side of the table. They knowingly waited as Parsons took out a bottle of red wine, gave each a glass and then began to pour the wine. They each drank their glass, but instead of placing it on the table, they curiously tucked the glass under their armpits as Parsons put yet another two glasses out and poured again. Lavalle began her story. Suddenly that sense of alienation diminished as the human voice drew us into the ancient art of storytelling. Akin to a Scientology Dianetics confession, memories of her high school first love unfolded as she became increasingly intoxicated. However engaging Lavalle’s performance was, this very long-winded diary entry of heartbreak with a heavy undercurrent of insecure projections didn’t seem to be ending. It truly was an endurance test.
Meanwhile, Bucket listened and they both drink and try to tuck more and more glasses under their arms until… CRASH. Bucket dropped a glass and we heard a searing shatter. Was that on purpose? Then I noticed another man in a white lab coat, Legba Carrefour, sprawled out on the floor with a microphone capturing every last note of the crash sound as another man in a white lab coat, Ivan Khilko, stood behind a laptop sampling the live sound and putting it through effects. (Khilko did all the original music and sound for the show). Of course it was on purpose, and duly documented. As the story went on, more and more glasses shattered and the shards were collected in a box around the storytellers feet.
Each glass contains an experience. We continue to consume those experiences over and over again to create our identity. But how much of these past experiences are really us anymore? The experiences shatter and scatter into memories contained, in this case, in a box around each actor’s feet built by architect and sculptor, Kashuo Bennett, who had a large influence on the set design and installation aspect of this act.
Each in their boxes, the two performers were almost on their third bottle of wine when Bucket began his coming of age story involving thrill seeking danger and exploration. And death. Then I remember the turning point in Lavalle’s story, when her lackadaisical crush admits to her that he stopped caring about anything once he realized we are all gonna die. And then, all of this is nothing, just a product of a series of events. This bleak realization changed Lavalle’s perspective on life.
Bucket swept and arched through time and space in his equally long-winded story while glasses continue to crash and the scientist continue to document everything. Bucket spilled red wine on the white tablecloth and Parson took his white lab coat and cleaned it off, leaving red stains on his sleeve.
Now on their fourth bottle of wine, Bucket got to the part where his old friend Bobbie died. Bobbie is his only remaining tie with his old life back in Baltimore and since high school Bucket has moved on to bigger and better things than the reckless teenager engaging in “kid stuff.” Bucket solemnly exclaimed, “With Bobbie’s death, the person I used to be died.” They have no photos together; all he has now are memories and a check for $10,000 that Bobbie gave him for being a real friend, reminding him “not to cash it too quickly.”
The lights dimmed, the scientists moved the squares up against the wall and underwent an aesthetically pleasing ceremony of shedding light upon the shards with dancing shadows on the wall. With one on each side of the long black cloth, they brought all glass together, like a collective memory, and closed the black cloth around it with the bulb still burning. Parsons announced in an innocuously but authoritative tone, “intermission.”
Part installation, part storytelling and part performance art – this is a real hybrid of an experience. So where do you go from there? Well, if you are director Sebastian Rousseau, you change gears entirely. The Second Act had no words and engaged the physical dimension only. Rousseau and fellow dancer Corey Landolt took the stage for a stirring modern dance rendition. The kinesthetic frenetic energy filled the space, immediately giving me goose bumps and causing me to drop my pen and forget about taking notes.
Let’s pause for a second and talk about Kool Raunch collective. Rousseau has been dancing since he was 4 years old. Fast-forward twenty some years, he had an injury and feared for his profession and probably his identity too. Rousseau then asked his friend, artist and activist, Adrian Parsons, “What will I do now?” And Parsons responded, “make art.” Kool Raunch Collective launched soon after, in 2010, as a multi-disciplinary outlet and collaborative affair. Rousseau states, “The collective seeks to develop new works which integrate dance and movement with conceptual art, theatre and original music. Their scope ranges from large collaborative theatrical works to minimalist performative installations. We are committed to challenging conventions concerning performance categories and settings.”
Rousseau did heal from his injury, and does dance now. As a result of this past injury he has expanded his scope, method and presentation. “IF or IF” is the first piece where Rousseau plays the role of the director, dancer and choreographer.
When asked which role he prefers, Rousseau said, “I’m a dancer rediscovering being a dancer. Choreography is new to me and Corey had a lot of influence in this show. We did it together.”
Corey Landolt, in his fourth season with The Washington Ballet, and Rousseau, who studied dance at the Hamburg Ballet School in Germany, entered the scene blindfolded. The men in lab coats manipulated them for a spell and then they embarked on an exploration bringing to mind body memory. Without vision, you must ask how much they are relying on their body memory, or on their kinesthetic intuition to achieve these moves. And, as they touch, how much are they relying on each other? Landolt and Rousseau dance beautifully together, but differently. Landolt’s more subtle movements and quiet gestures contrasted well with Rousseau’s more animated and passionate style of dance. All in front of a backdrop of projections from the security camera planted outside, we can’t escape the media and technology implications in each act.
Landolt left the room and Rousseau is left alone. Khilko lowers the volume to emphasize the moment. We heard Rousseau’s breath and movement. Through the security camera, we saw Landolt’s reflection in the door as he put his shoes on. He went outside and began to dance. Again, they danced together, but apart. The feeling of detachment from the one not in the room, but on the camera, remained present. When they switched places, this was still the case. Though I wanted to watch the dancer in the camera because it was cool, I felt so much more drawn to the breathing moving body in front of me
Storytelling returned in the Third Act with veteran storyteller Kevin Boggs (who helped coach all the storytellers) and newcomer Haleh Pedrem as they confessed stories of HIV and abortion but managed to deliver it with humor. Meanwhile the scientists on the side whispered to each other over their clipboards. Khilko’s sonic manipulations of their voices, though subtle and intentional in the first act, are more and more clumsy and the effects became distracting. You couldn’t help but feel like technology was starting to interfere with the inertia of the story and with the human voice. It was also a confession of collaboration. One told this story alone and then there were others adding more elements and more layers.
This didn’t feel like going to the theatre where everything is completely staged and rehearsed many times. The concepts were intact and elements aligned but there was room for it to be an experience in and of itself: a one time only performance.
Khilko’s sound explorations reached a mind-fucking cacophony as the story tellers repeated, “I thought I was going to die.” The dancers returned and took their places, waiting. Rousseau gives a sharp look at Khilko and soon the music calmed down. The dancers engaged in a modern dance fight and brought the multi-disciplinary performance to a close.
For the first act Rousseau said he was thinking a lot about the concept of memory criterion. “No one else could have your memories, but what if your memory fails, memory is merely a vessel- you can never replicate it again.” In the second act he addressed the genetic, materialist position and deals with synchronistic intuition. The third act, he said, “it’s everything to the max.” The curious “IF or IF” title emerged from a google voice transcription (more back story in the preview on DC Performance Art). Rousseau explains, “I saw the abyss of objectivity. It began with a long table and two people on each end. If or if, could be anything.”
Kool Raunch Collective brought a heaping scope of experimental entertainment filled with talent. Rousseau’s ambitious conceptual vision came across to create a captivating experience and mind-bending memory. It was great to see ReadySetStage’s first show attract a full house; they did a great job promoting it. I sure am looking forward to more hybrid multi-disciplinary acts blending so many creative forms and more from Kool Raunch Collective. In fact, looks like they’ll be a part of BLOWOUT! : DC’s Performance Art Festival on July 16th. It truly is an exciting time for the arts in DC.
Short URL: http://bit.ly/MIn6Fc