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Tommy Noonan, dancer and choreographer, had been working in Europe since 2006 until he recently landed up in Saxapahaw, NC, where he is now one of three co-directors of Culture Mill. His partner and co-choreographer in Brother Brother, Clint Lutes, has a similar resume, but Lutes still lives in Paris. The two men gave the first U.S. presentation of their performance work Brother Brother in the Carrack Modern Art Gallery on the 18th as the DIDA season continues; the two remaining performances of Brother Brother are sold out.*
After taking tickets at the gallery door, dressed in white bathrobes and grey Nikes, the two disappeared into the storage closet to re-emerge in their Nikes and matching navy blue Fruit of the Loom briefs. They stood close together in one corner of the small performance space, gazing at the audience. Gradually, their mouths began to twitch. They began to "laugh." I put it in quotes, because they were performing laughter, but it worked on (some of) the audience like a TV laugh track. The two men walked toward the audience and laughed as if in uncontrollable amusement which they were trying to stifle. They took a lap around the room and laughed. Facing the back wall, they suddenly switched to loud wordless yelling before turning around and laughing some more.
Noonan returned to the closet and brought out a rickety rolling cart with a tray holding a package, two glasses of water, and two navy blue towels. As he urged the balky wheels over the uneven boards of the Carrack floor, he began a clowning comedy routine of dropping and retrieving, and it became clear that the work had ideas about balance and control at its core, in addition to being about relationships between the two men. Eventually Noonan gets his objects under control, and while Lutes sits waiting on his towel, bemusedly patient/impatient, he pours dried legumes onto the tray and tilts it back and forth. They make a sound somewhat like a didgeridoo, and with each precipitous tilt, some of the peas skitter onto the floor. Passing the tray off to an audience member, Noonan rejoined Lutes and they began to jog in place.
Variants on jogging, running, climbing the walls and each other form the central section of the work. These were performed well, and occasionally the feats were impressive, as were the shifts in emotional tone. Yet, the work is diffuse, rather than intense. It seemed self-indulgent, show-offy, rather than a rigorous examination of its themes in which the artists are subsumed in the art. It was impossible for this viewer to suppress a mental comparison with Two Room Apartment, danced last summer at the Nasher Museum as part of the American Dance Festival by Niv Sheinfeld and Oren Laor. Here were the two men, one tall, one short, and the permutations of their relationship. Here were the two towels, the water, the near-nudity. Here was the running and the wrestling. Missing was dance and the sense of implacable necessity.
*Performances run through Dec. 20 but are as noted sold out. See the sidebar for details.