Pearson Takes the Stage . . .

thisisablankpageANDREWPEARSONBodiesinPlay3The title should really read:
Andrew Pearson Takes The Stage in a Self Defining Coming Out Debut

Few events can tempt me out of suburbia and into the city on a Tuesday night while my semester is in full swing, but seeing Andrew Pearson in his one man show, this is a blank page. a story in motion, was one of them. Having seen Pearson dance many times as a long-time member of LACDC, I knew of his incredible facility and impeccable skill as a performer. However, I was relatively unfamiliar with his creative voice and found myself delightfully curious how he would choose to use his impressive skill set in a work of his own. this is a blank page. was an impressive fifty-minute performance at the Bootleg Theater that proved to be a playful and personal coming-out debut.

The audience was invited to write a movement or performance prompt on a scrap of paper and to toss it on stage for Pearson. Upon entering the space, Pearson was already hard at work, jotting down ideas in an open notebook propped on a music stand nestled in a sea of self-help and pop psychology books. (I knew what they were only because I have read more than half of them.) He left his workspace to collect the dropped pieces of paper, exclaiming excitedly, “This is a good one. This will work.” The show, it seems, was not quite finished. Pearson tried on ideas and had the audience already engaged and laughing as he embodied various undisclosed prompts. In an unexpected lull in the audience chatter, he directed the audience to keep talking because he was almost ready. He then disappeared behind the black curtain, and the show began in earnest.

Pearson’s “this is a dance” appropriately addressed the misgivings of a debut artist. The themes of art-making, self-definition, and risk-taking ran through the evening as a whole. This first solo addressed a topic that speaks to many artists, namely, the challenge of having something worth saying, worth sharing, or worth dancing. In this prologue, he did everything in his power to put pen to paper to no avail. The expressive solo that was half contemporary dance flow and half pratfalls represented the challenge inherent in any artistic endeavor. Making art is tough. And yet artists do it anyway.

The first official section, entitled “this is step 91,” of the evening was by far my favorite. It was personal, playful, well-crafted, well-performed, wholly unpredictable, and laugh-out-loud funny. A solo in underwear and striped socks, a rousing American sign language* interpretation of “When I Fall in Love,” and a satirical contemporary dance had me in stitches. What made this section work so well was Pearson’s undeniable sense of musicality as well as his fully embodied ownership of pop culture and contemporary dance vernacular. His control, strength, and nuanced dynamics, set to billboard hits and text spoken by Corey Dorris in a1950s public service announcement style, made this section a delight.

“this is a story about a boy named Lucky” took the evening into a serious and abstracted aesthetic space as Pearson transitioned the audience from humorous to unraveled. What started as an homage to the life of a young bon vivant turned dark as Pearson transformed his LA jazz flare into the unapologetic vocabulary of a performance artist who is willing to do the uncomfortable and test the edges of the audience’s ability to tie together meaning. The EDM-like soundscape first scoffed at all the things that can kill us, but the poker chips of life, after being flung recklessly into the air, soon became more and more precious. The currency of life deserved perhaps a little more attention and care. We watched Pearson painstakingly gather and stack the chips: red, blue, white. Then he went “all in,” balancing the stacks on his arms, feet, head, neck, and thigh, each time making it harder to keep them balanced as he dipped down to add another stack to his wager. He was pushing his body to the limit in this gamble. And, perhaps inevitably, the chips fell. But it seemed he was lucky enough to be around to see it.

thisisablankpageANREWPEARSONBodiesinPlay1The final section of the evening, “this is not the end,” explored themes of being defined by self, by others, and by ideas. Pearson taped out a square on the stage, measuring it out with his own body, reminding me of how we might need to measure ourselves for our own coffin when the time comes. Then he danced in and out of the box, using the same luscious and detailed movement vocabulary that he does so well. This piece, while being brilliantly performed, was perhaps the least refined conceptually. While the overall message was clear, the orchestral and cinematic score that was composed for this work by Evan Monheit changed the tone of the evening quite drastically. Beautiful in its own right, I found myself not entirely convinced of how the dramatic score fit into the aesthetic of the evening.

The show as a whole was a pleasure to watch, and I look forward to seeing Pearson’s work in the future. I will be particularly interested if and when he sets work on other dancers to see how his ideas translate to other bodies and groups of bodies. The lighting design by Ric Zimmerman was simple, effective, and well-executed. The music and sound design was contributed by Kevin Dekimpe, Ben Jenoshua, Eric Mason, and Garett McLean. This show was everything I love about one-man and one-woman shows. It was vulnerable. It was playful. It left room for the audience to invest in the meaning making while showcasing the individual. It was a testament to the independent movement artists in the LA area.

 

*Please note: I’m not 100% sure it was ASL, because I don’t know a lot of ASL. But from what I do know, it looked authentic—or at least convincing.

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