There is something to be said for process over product, but in the case of Jennifer Monson’s Live Dancing Archive, it is not quite enough to raise the solo show – an exploration of how environmentally based experiences shape movement – out of its intellectual heaviness.

Jennifer Monson © Paula Court
Jennifer Monson
© Paula Court

Ms Monson wore a gold, velour, sleeveless midriff and flesh-colored cutoff fishnets for most of the performance, which actually seemed appropriate, conveying a mix of overt femininity and naturalness. (I have recently attended a number of shows that appear to favor nudity over thoughtful costuming.) The stage was mostly bare, with only carefully positioned and repositioned spotlights and a prop not unlike a schoolroom dry-erase board on wheels to share the space.

Most of Ms Monson’s movement was spry, directional and surprising. I would guess that a slightly larger percentage of it was improvised, as opposed to set, but this didn’t bother or bore me in the least; in fact, I found myself most interested when Ms Monson seemed to surprise even herself with new spatial orientations and dynamic changes. I was also pleasantly surprised to find the 51-year-old Ms Monson not in good but in superb physical shape – I found myself wondering if a dancer 30 years younger would be able to attack the movement with such vigor and sense of completion. I found myself both fascinated and, alternately, bored throughout much of the strictly-movement sections. I valued viewing Ms Monson articulate each of her joints and limbs, but it was the sort of viewing that still allows the mind to wander quite a bit, just to be jerked back into the present by Jeff Kolar’s often droning sound score.

Later on, Ms Monson was dressed by a female assistant in a white, pageboy wig and a gold piece of material which appeared to be two gloves, connected. She then pranced in front of a spotlight of sorts and lip-synced the words to a song that seemed to be about a “bird lady”. It felt superficial and a bit manipulative – was this Ms Monson’s commentary on long-held definitions of femininity? I wasn’t sure.

The most intriguing segment involved a completely nude Ms Monson forcing two to-go cup tops along a path on the floor by swinging her hair, while upside down. Near the end of the piece, she dressed herself in a peach-colored, gauzy gown; I was shocked to realize that it was much easier to humanize her in regular clothing, which immediately implied that I had been thinking of her in strictly primitive terms prior to this costume change. Her movement seemed to change, too – it became softer by degrees. Ms Monson often returned to the downstage left corner, sliding on her stomach in a diagonal path and then flailing with her limbs. I didn’t understand, once more, but it was at least appealing to see relatively familiar movement vocabulary.

I suppose Ms Monson has mastered the quality of landscape in her movement. But it turns out to not be enough to hold my attention.

***11