Friday, November 30, 2007
SDSU Don Powell Theatre
It really couldn’t have begun any other way. He had to be naked. If one is going to take a journey through the evolutionary development of humans, one must start at the beginning, before man was man, before man was self-aware and self-conscious. To do less would be a cop-out, an acknowledgement that, well, this is just theater, and therefore I’m gonna keep my pants on. But Eric Geiger embraced the necessity of the image, the authenticity of the idea. Yet Geiger the Man was nowhere to be found. Rather Geiger as animal, masked in a pale gorilla mask, roamed the confined space, repeating gestures of both strength and grace, finding a quiet harmony in the phrases that eventually turned into an anxious energy, as if ready to move on and shed the exterior of beast.
The stunning mask (designed by Shirley Pierson) served not only to evoke the animalistic origins of humans, but also to erase the expression, emotion, and identify that so define us today. Though dance is celebrated for the full engagement of the body, one forgets how important a dancer’s eyes and face are to the overall effect until they are taken away and replaced with the blank stare of a gorilla. From the neck down, we were clearly watching a human. But it begs the question: how much of a human can it be if we can’t recognize ourselves in it’s eyes?
Slowly, Geiger discovered an article of clothing to cover those exposed private regions – the first signs of consciousness. A roll of bubble wrap was laid against the floor as Geiger crawled his way across it, moving from four legs to two, recreating that most iconic of evolutionary images. Yet the movement was accompanied by the constant pop of the bubble wrap, as if to say that during this journey, humans cannot help but to destroy the earth along the way. Progress inevitably calls for the trampling of what came before, and from the very earliest times, Geiger seems to say, humans have been wrecking the planet.
Soon more and more layers of clothing are added until eventually one cannot deny that man has replaced animal. And in this moment, the mask is removed, giving birth to identity and self. Carefully wrapped and put away, the mask buries with it those primordial instincts of humans. But are they really put away for good, or just submerged deep within?
Whereas the animal was merely one of many equal inhabitants of its environment, the human becomes the central axis of his. Strapping himself into a belt of wired planets, Geiger illustrated this point by literally becoming the pole around which the universe rotates. In doing so, he further flattened the delicate bubble wrap while tangling his feet in the process, suggesting perhaps that we humans are so wrapped up in ourselves that we fail to recognize the effect of our actions, or fail to even notice the harm we are doing to each other.
It is unfair to go further without acknowledging the brilliant set – designed by Geiger – in which this story unfolds. Geiger managed to fuse dance and design in a way that is rarely seen in San Diego. The small box set, resembling a diorama in a museum, framed the piece as to suggest a type of exhibition – something both permanent and static like a display that confines and freezes history. Yet the steep rake of the interior of the box as well as the deep forced-perspective and intersecting planes created a disorienting affect that made it feel somewhat alive and made Geiger appear almost larger than life.
And larger than life, he eventually becomes. Fast-forwarding a few millennia, Geiger constructs an explorer’s backpack that at certain angles resembles a futuristic rocket pack, and climbs through the confinement of his display case/planet earth/human ego to emerge in the vast darkness of the unknown.
Geiger has regularly displayed a talent for developing movement material in past works but this solo piece was an attempt at something more conceptual and concrete, less abstracted. The narrative felt rooted more in the design of the set, props, and costumes, and less grounded in the movement itself. This is not necessarily a bad thing, merely a departure for this particular artist.
And a narrative it was – a rather explicit recreation of the stages of evolution and human development. One didn’t get a clear sense of what Geiger thought of it all, however. Was this performance a critique of human behavior? A commentary on the way we treat the planet and each other? A cautionary tale? A political statement? A call to action? Perhaps it was none of these. Or all of them.