Cassie Peterson unravels the many layers of self at work in Faye Driscoll’s newest creation, You’re Me, now at The Kitchen.
I met Faye Driscoll back in 2002 at some house party in San Francisco’s Mission District. In that cliché, small-talk-at-a-party way, we quickly discovered that our birthdays fall on the same date, but that she’s a Sagittarius and I’m a Scorpio; I’ve yet to sort out the logic in this “fact.” At the time of our first meeting, I was busy putting my-self through college and she was busy finding her-self after graduating from NYU and dancing in Doug Varone’s company for a stint. I was unbearably young and naïve and just beginning to take an interest in movement and performance practices. I was cobbling together my own amateurish understanding of dance history and was primarily engaging dance with a cool, cerebral distance before Faye swept in and introduced me to a whole new visceral vocabulary. Faye’s early-career, Bay Area DIY-style choreography was an unapologetic declaration of the depraved. Her work was and continues to be a modernist refusal of form, a postmodern refusal of narrative, and a post-postmodern reclamation of both and of everything. Her work gives space and permission for the grotesque. The bizarre. The unsayable. Faye showed me that a dance performance could leave me feeling cold and disemboweled. Assaulted. Seduced. And confused. She showed me that dance could actually reflect my personal realities, my identities, my own secret conflicts, and cellular vibrations. Her dances invite me to find myself in them.
Now, ten years later, Faye’s newest work, You’re Me is being performed at The Kitchen through April 21st. You’re Me is a sordid and enduring corporeal journey that unfolds in a duet form between Faye and dancer Jesse Zaritt. Faye has re-entered her work as a performer after several years of directing from the outside. Between them, they create a high-speed exploration of the inevitable roles, representations, images, stories, fantasies, and emotions that are bound up in the very act of relating. You’re Me is a frenetic duet that asks us if it is possible to have an attachment to “life” that is not prescribed by the limits of "my life.” The piece is a staged attempt to transcend one’s own subjectivity through creating intimacy and extreme states like ecstasy and agony, while simultaneously revealing the impossibility of ever fully escaping one’s self. Can I abandon my subjectivity inside of yours? How far can we go? You’re Me is a relational test of limits and endurance.
The piece opens with a purposely-overstated scene of abundance and idolatry. Faye and Jesse are cloaked in brightly colored, multi-layered robes, with fruit languidly hanging from their limbs. They appear like beautiful gods, elevated above the stage, above their audience and congregation. The scene produces a sensorial oversaturation that reminds me of a religious ceremony or ritual. A puja. Flowers. Fruit. Fire. These are two deities, decadently adorned and adored.
But as the performance progresses, their accoutrements slowly begin to fall away, leaving the dancers’ simple human forms exposed. Revealed. What ensues is an intense and rapid descent, a fall from grace. The dancers descend from the heavens to the earth, losing touch with their higher power, but finding a lower one in the ground, in the mud. It is beastly. Reptilian. It is within each other. It is the beginning and the end of all of us. In this way, You’re Me feels like human evolution, in reverse. Our history on rewind. Or humanity, undone.
After reassuming their more earth-bound forms, Faye and Jesse make wild gestures to move across an empty space, together. Through these phrases, they both function as the other’s constant reference point, making strange seductive orbits around one another’s energetic openings and closings. They are attending. Mirroring. Each person’s piercing attention frames the other and makes them visible and known. This is a dance of becoming for and through the eyes of the other. This is a dance about undoing one another. The dancers vacillate between moments of total physical merging and long, unbearable separations and absences. Whenever they are separate for an extended period of time Jesse begins to desperately shadowbox or shadowfuck the empty space around him—a yearning gesture for the union of just moments before. His movements remind us that a self cannot exist without an other to coax, know, and name it into an existence. We fight and fuck in order to make each other real.
This constant shifting in and out of one another’s domain reminds me of the psychoanalytic notion of rapprochement. It is said that we each must pass through this developmental stage whereby our child-self swings like a terrified pendulum between the experience of total merge and utter abandonment. It is the age-old, internal conflict between feeling too much connection vs. not enough. The stakes of rapprochement are high in that both engulfment and abandonment might result in the ultimate decimation of the burgeoning, young self. Thus rapprochement is one of the most complex of all developmental phases and it sets the stage for our later adult intimacies. Faye and Jesse reveal the ways that our childhood rapprochement remains an eternally unfinished negotiation. Fear of togetherness. Fear of separateness.
What are the limits of a self, in a relationship, before it becomes the other?
What are the bounds of a You and a Me and what are all the possibilities of an Us?
Never shying away from theatrical elements or devices, Faye constructs a discursive string of familiar “RELATIONSHIP” representations in a way that makes the piece look like a moving collage of self and other. This collage effect is partly achieved through the abundant use of costumes and props; the dancers spend a great deal of time dressing up and down and changing clothes to and for one another. Each costume is both incomplete and exaggerated; Faye hyperbolizes the objects that we employ in our everyday lives to signify our identities, and, in doing so, she mocks, challenges, and deconstructs the various identities that we often mistake for the totality of the self. There is sports equipment. Circus paraphernalia. Feathers. Wigs. Beards. Bras. Binders. Jock straps. Glasses. Hats. Ear muffs. Socks. Wallets. Purses. Glitter. Lipstick. Paint. Clown noses. Jewelry. Makeup. You’re Me is like a Rorschach Test on speed. What do you see? What do you see now? What about now? The costumes and props are like found art objects that the dancers reanimate with new meaning and purpose. The objects become evidence of the journey we are all on together. They become evidence of our act of relating.
Faye posits and plays with these recognizable representations of self and other before pulling them apart to reveal chaotic nonsense. She dissects “the literal” in front of us and turns something we once recognized, something we once identified with, into an incoherent mess—creating a kind of alchemy where something unknown springs from previously known material. Faye’s work goes straight for the social jugular in how what we know for certain about our-selves and the world is crushed into tiny abstractions. It is both violent and cathartic.
In this process of destroying the familiar and rebuilding the unfamiliar with the same material, Faye’s work often feels unfiltered or uncensored. Her choreography can make viewers feel uncomfortable or even overexposed, as if we are watching a very private violence. Like guilt-ridden voyeurs, we are watching something that is really “none of our business.”
Playwright/director Young Jean Lee (whom Faye often works with) aptly described Faye as a “choreographer of the id.” Within Freud’s early intrapsychic theories of the self, he declared the id the primitive container for all sexual and aggressive impulses. The id is the part of ourselves that we are supposed to privately grapple with and ultimately control on our own. The id is the part of self that we are conditioned to shun and disown. The id is the skeleton in the closet and the star of Faye’s work. She is compulsively interested in the things we are not to speak of, or identify with. In You’re Me, Faye and Jesse muck around in the rough-draft aspects of a relationship—the taboo struggles that are too real, too raw, and too ugly to bring into the public domain.
Throughout the piece, Faye and Jesse frequently stop whatever they’re doing to check in about the details of what they are trying to depict or role-play. All relationships are, in a sense, a series of role-plays. In one vignette in particular, Faye actually directs Jesse through what she calls, “The perfect romantic moment.” We watch them attempt many different “takes” at staging it. Faye is patient. They are experimenting and trying to get it right. They miss the mark several times before nailing down the ideal and perfect representation of a romantic moment. We are happy and sated in their success because now, in this moment, they are known to each other and to us as a romantic couple. These frequent “check-ins” externalize aspects of their process and reveal that relationships are always performed and thus have no intrinsic or true “nature.” This self-referential, meta-vignette also reveals the dynamics of a formalized director/performer relationship. This is a commentary on the actual real-time roles of The Maker and The Made. Within the piece, Faye continues to ask what it means to be a director. She names and questions her own designated role inside of the performance and points to the difficulty of trying to manifest one’s own creative vision through the body of an other.
But after an hour of overtly directing Jesse through unyielding moments of love and war, he viciously attacks her and Faye collapses in defeat. This is the first moment of capitulation in the piece. The director is defeated and defamed. It is painful to watch this kind of mutiny and loss of power. Jesse watches her moan in pain from the corner. He has undone her.
Can the piece continue?
Jesse is a good boy and he knows his role(s). He dutifully nurses Faye back to health, back to her feet. He is putting his director back together again for the grand finale. To end this epic journey, Faye climbs up, elevated once more, on top of a platform covered in a dense array of technicolored costumes. Jesse hands Faye each item and she puts them on her body before quickly removing them—all the previously conjured images from the entire piece are present now in this closing sequence. Faye has survived (and beaten) the demands made upon her by her own work. She is triumphant. She is cracking a whip with no regard for where it lands and Jesse has slowly slinked away to a safe corner on the stage. He has left her, but watches from afar. She needs us now. She turns her attention to the audience and confronts us with a bold, unwavering posture. She locks eyes with us. It’s an invitation. No, it’s a demand.
What is next?
Who is next?
“I only know about the work after it’s done,” Faye says to me, earnestly, after the run.
Yes. Me too. Did I get it right?
Faye Driscoll’s You’re Me will be performed at The Kitchen April 19th-April 21st.
Cassie Peterson is a New York-based writer, thinker, activist, healer, & lavender menace. She works as a psychotherapist by day, and moonlights as a dance/performance conversationalist, consultant, and critic. Her extemporaneous musings and inqueeries can be found on her blog, Self & Other.