Two Languages Blend In Voice and Body
by Jennifer Dunning

Spoken poetry and the mute language of the body merged in provocative ways in "Crease," an improvisation by the poet Bruce Andrews and the dancer and choreographer Sally Silvers, on Thursday night at the Whitney Museum of American Art at Philip Morris. The evening, part of the museum's imaginative "Impulsive Behavior" series, also featured performances by the poets Charles Bernstein and Edwin Torres, whose act included percussion by Sean Blacklung.

Mr. Bernstein and Mr. Andrews are founding members of the experimentalist Language Poetry movement, which focuses not on subject matter or form but on the material of language and the ways language produces meaning. One might expect this approach to be antithetical to the metaphorical heart of dance. But Ms. Silvers and Mr. Andrews are longtime collaborators, and together they produced a more expansive kind of metaphor.

One of the pleasures of "Crease" was its amusing juxtaposition of two distinctively different presences. Mr. Andrews had a kind of Midwestern solidity and amiability as he calmly juggled fragmentary spoken phrases and recorded words and sounds. Ms. Silvers was pure New York: a little worried looking but concentrating on her wayward progress with dogged acuity.

Dressed first in a scruffy pink party dress and black army boots and later in black cutoff tights and a black shirt with an inspired sheen of red, Ms. Silver looked like an urban wraith as she perched, reclined, hung from, inched and darted across and slid along every flat surface and railing in the performance space.

Disappearing at times, then popping up in another spot, bathed in pinkish light that followed her, she served as an anchor in a sea of non-sequiturs that ranged from "Stretch marks on what's left of your ethics" to "Exacerbate me, babe." When it was time to stop, she wrapped herself around Mr. Andrews and his impromptu marble podium and then tugged at his arm like a small, impatient child. Too often ill-advised, improvisation here opened a window on two yeasty, authoritative artists.

(Originally published in The New York Times 4/11/99)

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May 1999