I saw "The Pronouns (Experiment #2)" by Clarinda Mac Low at Mount
Tremper Arts on June 9. The show began outside the hall, with two
children hopping on a trampoline. A man shouted out instructions from
The Pronouns: 40 Dances for the Dancers by Jackson Mac Low, the
avant-garde poet (1922-2004). Here are some of the phrases:
I do something consciously, going about & coming across art.
After that I boil some delicate things
while doing something under the conditions of competition
& going under someone or something
& taking opinions,
& then, when making or giving something small, I monkey with something
that's not white.
Later I quietly chalk a strange tall bottle.
Following each instruction, the two kids would act it out. This
performance lasted six minutes, after which we all went inside.
The feeling of the show was homemade, friendly. It was more like
eating soup than "seeing avant-garde dance." The performers wore
ordinary clothes, not leotards. One of the women had on an orange tank
top, beneath which she wore a bra. You know how, when that happens,
you see four straps? Those four straps were an aspect of the
performance. "The Pronouns" was closer to visual art than most dance
is -- and, in fact, ended with all the performers taping large brown
paper to the wall and drawing freely with chalk.
Clarinda seemed like the leader of a gang more than a "choreographer."
She performed very little, but usually stood in one corner -- near
where I sat -- watching the others and smiling.
At one point, one of the players, James Hannaham, fell in love with a
woman in the audience. He looked at her and said: "Oh, wow! You and I
are so... We should just open a joint bank account right now!" The
woman, who sat with her boyfriend, tried not to look flattered.
Later, James stripped to the waist, and drew on himself with beige and
green pastels. He is African-American, and suddenly one noticed that
his skin, which defines his identity for us, is merely a surface, like
One dancer lay motionless on the ground, and everyone else gathered
around her pretending she was dead, or gravely injured, and worried
At one point, the performers ripped up pieces of paper, then
distributed them to the audience -- but not to everyone. After the
show, a woman sitting near me handed me her scrap of paper: "Here, you
should have this!" Then I realized it was part of a dollar bill: most
of George's face. These performers had been committing a federal crime
"The Pronouns (Experiment #2)" was influenced, I suspect, by Occupy
Wall Street. Also, it was about Clarinda's relationship with her
father. In her biographical note she wrote: "Clarinda Mac Low has been
performing since she was 4, when she made mud onstage for a piece by
her father about the four elements."
After the show, Clarinda spoke to the audience: "We would love to hear
anything you want to say, positive or negative." There was a pause,
then a man in the back spoke out. "Your father would be very proud of
you." We all laughed and applauded, and that was the end of our
collective conversation. I wandered to the back wall, to see the
drawings the troupe had made. They were colorful, twisting. As I
suspected, the performers had "quietly chalked a strange tall bottle."
Today, finally reading the program, I learned that many of the
performers were not dancers. James Hannaham, for example, writes for
the Village Voice, and cofounded the Elevator Repair Service, the
theater company which is recently famous for reading all of The Great