Anne Carson and Rashaun Mitchell: Ms. Carson, a poet, and Mr. Mitchell, a dancer and choreographer, collaborated on “Nox” and “Bracko” at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston. From left, Marcie Munnerlyn, Mr. Mitchell, Carol Dougherty,Ms. Carson, Robert Currie and Kate Gilhuly in “Bracko.” (Photo: Liza Voll)
My admiration for the poet Anne Carson has been intact for some time. (I’ve written about her work here.) But with the recent publication of Nox and her extraordinarily successful category bleed from text only into text and images, I’m even more agog.
But clearly Carson isn’t stopping for too long at that achievement, and she is moving on to cohabit with yet another métier, dance. On Tuesday night at the ICA in Boston, Carson participated in a performance with dancer and choreographer Rashaun Mitchell that is in many ways unable to be categorized. It felt like the fine art equivalent of a mashup, calling up bits and pieces from the traditions of dance, recitation, poetry, incantation, theater, art installation/performance and mystery school.
From a review of the performance by Alastair Macaulay at the New York Times who, like me, was very moved by the event:
Since the poet and critic Anne Carson and the dancer-choreographer Rashaun Mitchell are each exceptional artists, their occasional collaborations — which began in 2004 — would be historically remarkable even if they were artistically barren. But “Bracko” and “Nox,” the two main works in which they have come together, are events where different kinds of poetry become layered upon one another with extraordinary eloquence. Words, dance, translation, cultural commentary, lighting, music — all add discrete but overlapping zones of beauty, meaning, drama.
On Tuesday, in a performance presented by Summer Stages Dance and the Institute of Contemporary Art here, a further layer came from the museum’s harborside setting. During “Bracko” (2008), transparent curtains allowed the audience to see yachts, water, seagulls, reflections, buildings and evening sky behind dancers and speakers. Then the blinds rose, so that “Nox” (Ms. Carson’s most recently published book, here receiving its stage premiere in what was described as “a new work in progress”) began, with the background view now brighter.
Yet those blinds soon lowered again, shutting off the luminous harborscape altogether. It’s a tribute to these artists that “Nox” then grew all the more engrossing. The older “Bracko” is fascinating, varied and full of promise, but the new “Nox” is a work of rare theatrical power: a sign that the Carson-Mitchell collaboration is gathering in imagination.
Several friends, also Carson fans, have asked me to describe the evening. I have found that difficult to do. It is easier for me to highlight a few peripheral observances as an alternative into the core and feel of the evening. Like Carson and Mitchell saying in the QandA that followed that they think of their collaboration as a work in progress and that they have no ulterior intentions as to where it will go and what it will become. That they assembled the various pieces—text, dance, music, setting, staging—just two days prior to the actual performance. That, when asked by an audience member to offer up one verb to describe the piece, Carson took some time to ponder this and then finally offered up, “thinging.” That Carson participates on stage alongside these consummate performers/dancers while possessing no theatricity or self consciousness herself, wearing a simple shift and her hair pulled back in a casual, offhanded manner. And that this juxtaposition of extraordinary body-based artists with an extraordinary cerebral poet seemed weirdly perfect.
Words or phrases I would use to describe it? Taut and yet wildly open. A celebration as well as a ritual of human sorrow and loss. Wisdom that lives in the interstices.
That’s vague, I know, but it is hard to get any closer. Macaulay is primarily a dance critic, so his approach leans more into that aspect. But for me, being more poetry-centric, I just can’t find a way to move this event out of its hermetic experientiality and into a more shared sense.