June 19, 2012

The Flight Show

The Performance Laboratory
at the Contemporary Art Institute of Detroit

The Flight Show — 15-June-2012

On one of those warm June evenings in Detroit when the breeze riffles your shirt like a caress, I attended “The Flight Show” at the Contemporary Art Institute of Detroit (CAID), 5141 Rosa Parks Boulevard
Detroit, MI 48208, (313) 899-2243,

One installment in an ongoing bi-monthly series (third Friday, every other month), “The Flight Show” presented five short acts — two indoors, and three out.

Opening the show, “Fannie Tupae and (Donald),” by Nick Bitonti & Bridget Michael, offered a send up of everyone’s idea of the most dismal, downright funereal nightclub act imaginable. The act opens with Donald, the morose piano player stuffing the barrel of a pistol into his mouth as Fannie Tupae, a vigorously painted lady in a long, white evening gown and heels introduces herself with a drunken sailor’s assessment of the theatre. The act drifts further into the explicit details of Fannie & Donald’s dysfunctional partnership — they put the fun in dysfunctional! The act ends with a surprise that surprises because it goes exactly where you anticipate they will not have the balls to go. They do. It does. It was a blast.

“They Look When I Enter,” choreographed by Ryan Myers-Johnson, with music by David Johnson, and danced by Ms. Myers-Johnson and Karla Williams, presents a short modern dance piece accompanied by Mr. Johnson drumming. The dance begins with both dancers down near the floor, intersecting and repelling one another like orbiting, charged atomic particles. Gradually, as the drum pace accelarates they ascend to upright positions, but still circle warily. Finally, the piece ends when the dancers embrace, but separate once more. To me, the movement suggested a slow evolution of two beings’ recognition of one another, recognition of common traits and need for companionship, and finally recognition of their persistent isolation, even in the midst of others.

After the dance, the show took a brief intermission and the MC and co-curator, Emilia Javanica, asked us to migrate through a side door beside the stage into the garden, where beer and wine were thoughtfully provided along with a donation bucket for those willing and able to make a contribution. Once everyone was out, David Johnson took up his guitar and performed classical pieces. He played beside an artificial fireplace comprised of fake cardboard brickwork with yellow and orange crepe paper, lighted from behind, billowing in place of real fire (the fireplace would feature in a subsequent act). He played softly and skillfully, and his music became a backdrop for mingled introductions and conversations in the garden. The sun angled through treetops in an adjacent lot and the lush garden surrounded us like a cocoon. Mr. Johnson’s masterful guitar work further enhanced the sense of transport to an idyllic oasis somewhere far away.

When Mr. Johnson finished playing, Laura Pazuchowski and her performance, “Butterfly and Spaceship” were introduced. The monologue Ms. Pazuchowski delivered presented the plight of a butterfly seemingly befriended, but then confounded and possibly destroyed by a spaceship of extraterrestrial origins. Her words stream as though directly from butterfly thoughts as the butterfly puzzles over the plight of the spaceship, come to Earth in search of fuel — butterfly fuel — and the inner turmoil of the butterfly as it moves from an innocent and welcoming encounter to one of fear and betrayal. Unexpectedly moving, given the form of the protagonist and antagonist, the butterfly’s calamity provokes anthropomorphic empathy and convinces us that even the strangest pairings of creatures can be stand-ins for humanity, or equally likely, share humanity’s dilemmas.

Adhering to the ancient premise: always leave ‘em laughing, “An Excerpt from the 1969 Ken Russel film ‘Women In Love’,” by Bridget Michael and Carrie Morris, offered the perfect closing act. Everyone laughed at this one, performed by two women who played the roles of two men in Russel’s film, who in turn played the roles of two characters drawn from the D.H. Lawrence novel, “Women In Love.” The novel created a big sensation when published, with its splashy representation of sexuality in all its forms. Russel’s movie made a big splash too, debuting male genitals onscreen, along with several other angles on scandalous nudity. Michael and Morris, keeping with tradition, trotted out a comical, modernly ironic rendition of a drawing room scene between Rupert and Gerald, whose discussion of their very, very close friendship culminates when the men wrestle — sort of — in the nude — sort of. The men, played by two women don’t forget, strip down and go to town with stylized grapples, and stylish… well, Michael and Morris got balls in this act too.

The Performance Laboratory, curated by Carrie Morris and Emilia Javanica, delivers the goods and graciously delivers a good time. An eclectic and engaging crowd showed up, a testament to the show business networking talents of Ms. Morris and Ms. Javanica, who pull the thing off with a minimal budget (donations accepted!). Show up for the next show, and drop a tenner in the jar… or whatever you can spare. This crowd deserves it.

By Jim Welke