International artists bring Israeli cowboys and English rabbits to Fusebox
One of the coolest things about Fusebox Festival is the chance to see experimental artists from around the world bring their A-game to Austin. Two of this year’s highlights came from two companies, working in different media, both boasting a multinational gang of creators: LeeSaar The Company, a New York City-based dance group founded by two Israelis and featuring Taiwanese, Korean, Canadian and Texan (yee haw!) dancers; and Gob Squad, video-guerilla theater makers from Nottingham and Berlin. Each group played with notions of fame, self-promotion, connection, desirability and allure in the Long Center’s Rollins Studio Theater.
In Fame, LeeSaar embodied and riffed on celebrity, pop culture and sexuality, blending modern dance with chunks of theatrical performance and dabs of ballet. As the only male dancer in the show, company cofounder Saar Harari carried most of the burden of portraying masculine images, drawing heavily on the guns, horses, cigarettes and cowboy hats (the one he wore was from Fusebox head Ron Berry’s closet) of American Westerns.
A highlight of the piece’s wry approach to stardom was a lip-synced performance of a goopy Israeli pop song, complete with the sound of thousands of fans singing along.
Much of the piece, indeed, addresses the intersection of gender and cultural stereotypes, with a strong dose of humor to liven up the dancers’ explorations. One dancer assumes the position of an aspiring actress on the casting couch, voicing both sides of the (grunt-filled) conversation. In other scenes, the Asian-born performers frolick with a golden Maneki Neko (Lucky Cat) head and pull chopsticks from a carefully placed hairstyle.
A highlight of the piece’s wry approach to stardom was a lip-synced performance of a goopy Israeli pop song, complete with the sound of thousands of fans singing along. One of the most theatrical moments in the show, the dancer stood in a spotlight, mimicking the overgracious smiles and ostentatious flourishes of a Celine Dion-style singer.
But most impressive were the less concrete, more dance-heavy moments that highlighted the troupe’s magnificent physiques and talent. Hopping, assuming wide-legged stances, and snapping their bodies from self-conscious glamour poses to gyrating shimmies to moments of graceful stillness, the agile manipulation of their own frames acted as a fine counter to the poisonous pull of fame: strength, concentration and confidence were more attractive and arresting than any pose they might affect.
A few days later, the Gob Squad busted out on to South Congress to confuse, cajole and hopefully charm Austinites strolling in a busy shopping district. The aim of Super Night Shot is clear: four actors, armed with video cameras and synced watches go out into a city to talk with passersby, explore and ultimately convince somebody to kiss Gobber Sean Patten while he wears a rabbit mask. They then rush back to a theater and run the four videos in sync, raising and lowering the volume to focus the narrative they built, with a fifth member spinning a soundtrack on top.
On the more gonzo end, in his quest to serve the citizens of Austin, Sean ended up leading a three-man march demanding the return of the downtown Dillo trolleys (eliminated in 2009).
The result is a charming, messy story that’s more about the process of connecting with strangers in a strange place than the result, and the potential for confusion or boredom is eased by the Squad’s careful choreography (those stopwatches aren’t so much to prove that everything is on the up and up — no cuts or edits — but to cue the four videographers to line up their actions with the others, resulting in sweet dance sequences and goofy raps that spread across multiple videos).
Though the general plan is the same every night, the addition of folks on the street leaves the potential for weirdness at any moment. In Saturday night’s performance, two interactions stood out, both with the film’s hero, Sean. He met one man who admitted to being unemployed and unsure what to do with his life. Sean pumped him up by passing along some encouraging words he’d just received from another stranger, and left the man pumping his fists in the air, with a big smile on his face. On the more gonzo end, in his quest to serve the citizens of Austin, Sean ended up leading a three-man march demanding the return of the downtown Dillo trolleys (eliminated in 2009).
And in the end? A hilarious screen kiss between the rabbit-masked hero and a man in his fifties who told the Squad that he’d experienced love at first sight with his wife when they were in college. As the gang made their getaway to the theater, inexplicably stripped down to their unmentionables, it was hard not to feel swept up in their 60-minute adventure, even watching it from the comfort of a theater seat an hour later.