because the personal is cultural
It’s not often we get to see intergenerational friendships dealt with such directness and subtlety as in Brooklyn Touring Outfit’s Co. Venture, presented at Centaur Theatre’s Wildside Festival. There is David Vaughan: 91 years old, British, dancer, singer, actor, choreographer, and archivist of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. And there is Pepper Fajans: 31 years old, American, designer, builder, performer, carpenter, and personal assistant to Merce Cunningham.
Neither of them appears onstage at first. It is rather a large wooden board that slides out from backstage, moving across the floor – part of the set, surely – but that then disappears through another door… before coming back onstage. As it slides away, it reveals Vaughan, sitting on a chair. When the board falls down, we think of the huge wall that comes tumbling down with a powerful gust of wind in Sasha Waltz’s Körper, though that’s not what happens here; the board turns out to be so light it barely makes a sound.
Vaughan speaks and we listen. That accent. That deep voice. When Fajans joins him onstage, they begin to reminisce about the past, about how they met working for Cunningham. We can see Fajans’s eyes looking inside his own head, trying to remember his lines (successfully). It’s endearing. It almost looks like he’s trying to remember the actual events. Plus it was the first show of the run; the text is bound to come back to him.
Fajans periodically returns to the board. As he handles it, it inevitably shapes his body, flattening it, making it more angular, reminding us of Cunningham’s geometric choreography. Vaughan remains in his seat. “I can’t stand on one leg anymore,” he will later tell us. Co. Venture is also about dis/ability. Fajans sits next to his friend and together they dance with great economy, gently tapping their feet and waving their arms before them. It’s so small, yet there’s an undeniable magic. It’s amazing what can happen when you meet people on their own turf, like choreographer Maïgwenn Desbois does.
“Use your body,” Fajans says, as he dances vigorously. That sentence means different things to different people. There is an awkwardness to his own movement, like it’s too big for him; he always seems to be overreaching, jumping just a bit too far. We can see the struggle, the trembling, just as we did when the Cunningham Company last passed through Montreal at Festival TransAmériques in 2010. I’d never made a link between Cunningham and Daniel Léveillé, though now it seems obvious.
Fajans rests his arms on a lengthy stick, turning himself into a scarecrow-like cross. Then, it’s large skeletal puppets – flat heads resting on three long pieces of wood pivoting around the screws holding them together – that shape and replicate his body, awkward elongated limbs extending into space.
It’s hard to do a show like Co. Venture justice. It’s so simple, yet so charming and touching. Too rarely are dis/ability and intergenerational friendships explored in contemporary North America. After Cunningham had a stroke, he lost control of one of his arms. Still, he kept finding ways to move. “He found more and more ways to do less and less,” says Vaughan. It reconciles one with life and ageing.
Tickets: 16$ / Students or under 30 years old: 13$
has an MA in Film Studies and works in contemporary dance. His fiction has appeared in Headlight Anthology, Cactus Heart, and Birkensnake.
s.verstricht [at] gmail [dot] com