This Friday night, Assistant Music Prof. Amy Chavasse will exclaim: “I am the lucky girl who sleeps with Ann Coulter!” This isn’t true, of course. Coulter and Chavasse have never met, let alone been intimate. But the irony of the homophobic right-wing darling taking a same-sex lover is the creative premise for Chavasse’s original spoken word piece, “I Sleep with Ann Coulter.”
“Coulter” is one of five provocative theater pieces onstage at the Duderstadt Video and Performance Studio this Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. The performances combine modern dance, video and text in a dynamic exploration of such topics as torture, female friendship and how deliberately false and offensive comments can turn into a lucrative career (cue Coulter).
Chavasse credits the performer-friendly policies of North Campus’s Duderstadt Center with making this weekend’s performances possible. The Duderstadt allows all students and faculty to submit project proposals and, if accepted, applicants receive grant money and performance space.
“After I had my first year of teaching here under my belt, it felt like it was time to find a performance venue,” Chavasse said. “I knew that some of my colleagues had presented work at the Duderstadt, and I became interested. It’s really an amazing space.”
Once Chavasse’s proposal was accepted, she sought collaborators. Instead of a permanent company, Chavasse has what’s known in the business as a pick-up company – a range of fellow performers she can call on whenever there’s a gig. For this performance, Chavasse enlisted her former student, Jessica Jolly, a dancer from the Brooklyn-based modern dance company, Everything Smaller; School of Music, Theatre and Dance seniors Alexandra Burley and Alex Springer; her mentor, actor Peter Schmitz; and Donnell Turner, another dancer from Everything Smaller.
The performance opens with an excerpt from “The Map and the Machine,” an original dance piece created by Everything Smaller. “The Map and the Machine” will premiere in New York City in late November.
Chavasse had a hand in the creation and choreography of the four remaining acts. The topics differ, but they share a number of Chavasse’s trademarks: the pieces are all character driven, socially relevant, humorous and preoccupied with the lyricism of language and the expressiveness of the body.
For example, the night’s most frenetic work, “All I Ask of My Enemies,” a dance and spoken-word duet accompanied by video projection, displays many of the aforementioned qualities. The politically charged piece uses the shifting relationship between two characters, played by Chavasse and Schmitz, to reflect the arbitrary nature of identifying and treating those we consider enemies.
The text for “Enemies” is almost entirely adapted from recently released National Security Archives documents like “Prohibition on the Use of Force.” The discrepancy between the document’s lyrical language and atrocious content fascinated Chavasse, a particularly articulate speaker.
“The language is just so strange, archaic and beautiful,” she said.
A video created by artist Sue Reese, a colleague of Chavasse’s from her time at Bennington College, uses ironic humor to further emphasize the absurdity of conflict.
Excerpts from the “Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote” cartoons are interspersed with footage from James Bond movies and original animation of Lewis Carroll’s classic tale of betrayal, “The Walrus and the Carpenter.”
Chavasse hopes theater pieces like “Enemies” or “Coulter” challenge audiences to question the origin of the information they receive, and encourage research and accountability. However, Chavasse is quick to note she is an entertainer, not a preacher.
“I try to make my characters believable, they aren’t just polemic sounding boards,” Chavasse said.
She added: “These pieces are my reaction to current events. I am fascinated and disturbed by what I see going on in the world, but I’m not bitter. There is humor. I’m like the Stephen Colbert of modern dance.”