Faye Driscoll’s Thank You For Coming: Attendance is a heady, exceptionally well-constructed and infectious piece of dance theater. Ms Driscoll has created one of the more exciting – and surprising – works I’ve yet seen in New York. She has also managed to assemble some of the most fearless and likeable dancers in her group.

Thank You For Coming © Maria Baranova
Thank You For Coming
© Maria Baranova

Even the prelude to Thank You For Coming is unique, bordering on cheeky, like much of the rest: Ms Driscoll and her cast of five stand atop the balcony at Danspace (which is a church when it is not a dance venue) and sang a short bit about making sure that the audience turned off their electronic devices (“Please don’t let them reach you” or something similar) before tromping downstairs to the raised stage in the center of Danspace’s in-the-round setting. The audience members were seated, on advice of the ushers, as close to the stage as possible. (Later, with the help of Ms Driscoll, the performers and ushers would disassemble the stage into individual bleachers for the audience to sit on. But this set up, too, was eventually broken down, leaving the audience standing.) The performers, clumped together in various poses of interrupted dance, quivered like gelatin molds and rearranged their impossibly awkward formation again and again, often rotating the clump. This I had seen before in a workshop presentation of Ms Driscoll’s piece last fall; I remembered the exercise she showed, where her dancers would stare at the audience and attempt to adopt their facial expressions and tics. Some of that felt like it was in play here again, though never at the expense of the shifting, clamoring mass of bodies.

I’d also seen before the section in which the dancers attached themselves end to end in one great string and slowly rolled on and off the stage, interacting gently with the audience. This time, however, the performers asked the audience members to help them remove their clothes and then change into a fresh set. (Water bottles were also, in a humorous but thoughtful touch, passed down the row of performers.) With new costumes – these more glamorous from the pedestrian rehearsal-esque clothing worn before – came a new sense of drama. The dancers, moving jerkily like a stop-motion animation, created tableau after tableau (sometimes repeated) of human pairings and interactions: hugs, refused advances, nose pinchings. Guitarist Michael Kiley simultaneously played a song that consisted solely of a list of names (presumably, those of the audience – the dancers whispered conspiratorially to us, “Get it? Get it? Get it?”).  The two male dancers, Sean Donovan and Brandon Washington, particularly excelled here.

Thank You for Coming © Maria Baranova
Thank You for Coming
© Maria Baranova

Higher drama and humor followed. With help from audience-held props (which were distributed earlier by ushers), the dancers configured themselves in new, more raucous tableaux – I briefly glimpsed an ill-fated wedding and backup dancers for a high-profile singer. (Alicia Ohs was in a category all her own.) Audience members were asked to hold the ends of streamers that were unrolled and eventually, amidst an orgy-like wrangling of clothes removal and occasional giggles, raised high above our heads, maypole-like.

Ms Driscoll’s dancers are a brave group. It is an occasionally terrifying and always vulnerable thing to be a dancer, but there is usually an unwritten rule that dancers do not make direct eye contact with the audience. Ms Driscoll’s performers completely disregarded this rule, forcing a new relationship to develop between the audience and dancers. Somehow, rather than feeling uncomfortable by way of direct stares, imitations of facial expressions, forced participation and clothing changes, a feeling of complicity developed. “Audience participation” is a dreaded phrase, but this piece was the most organic and exciting participation I’ve been a part of. 

Ms Driscoll is a talented orchestrator, and clearly capable of drawing out characters and intention of depth from her dancers.

*****