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Nichole Canuso’s program notes for Bryn Mawr College’s 2019 Wintry Mix show described the evening as a “cabaret of catharsis,” a funeral for what we grieve and what grief is yet to come. Canuso headlined the performance, alongside Philadelphia staples Meg Foley, Jennifer Kidwell, Martha Graham Cracker, and many more.
While “catharsis” as a theme might not stretch to cover this wide array of performances, it was accurate to call it a cabaret. It was cheeky, rolled its eyes at genre categorization, and commanded consensual audience participation.
Hilarity in grief
Naturally, the funeral opened with a processional. An ensemble of artists padded solemnly onstage, sing-chanting an invocation on not seeing one another for a long time, on not needing that piece of paper anymore (given to us as we entered the space, used to write something we’d lost and something we might yet still lose). A desolate chorus, they dispersed to collect our papers and reconvened onstage to read our written bits aloud. As they did, juxtaposing one stranger’s relinquishing of grief for a mother with another’s desire to quit Facebook, I found myself snorting.
It was an oddly hilarious sight. The gravity of it, the seriousness, the ceremony of it all, contrasted with something I’d written — the loss of one of my favorite pairs of jeans. It felt silly, this meeting of the sacred and the mundane, and that remained a common theme throughout Canuso’s work, which made up the majority of the evening.
Canuso and Martha Graham Cracker
In Sneakers, an in-progress excerpt from a larger revival of Midway Avenue, Canuso juxtaposed gestures evoking a banana (a sudden swiping curve of the body) and her childhood guinea pig (a swirl around herself, mouth with buck teeth) against lamentations of the most intimate moments with her mother at their dining-room table, Chopin’s melancholic piano plucking away.
In I’ll Stay, in This Heart, Martha Graham Cracker and musicians Pax Ressler and Eliza Hardy Jones popped the somber bubble of Rhonda Moore and Chelsea Murphy’s duet with a zippy monologue outlining a participatory ritual of grief for the audience. I descended back into the pensive depths as audience members in turn took up a flower and put it into a vase onstage, but I was abruptly dragged back up for the jazzy, maybe tongue-in-cheek quartet that rounded out the evening, though the intended effect of this was unclear.
I was also confused by the intentions of comedian Adrienne Truscott’s solo, Short/Form. Truscott’s bold and brash act, centering on topics like abortion, nudity, and overt sexuality, successfully parodied feminist comedy yet remained murky on intersectional inclusivity. During an entire bit on the cultural context of the phrase “suck a dick,” Truscott repeatedly connected men to this particular variety of genitalia; at one point, after discussing “people with penises,” she doubled back to say, “I mean guys.”
I wasn’t sure whether this was a sincere aside or if it was part of her character parodying bombastic white feminists (a term she used self-referentially here): those white cisgender women activists who often exclude transgender and nonbinary people in their crusades for “justice.” This lack of clarity risked a harmful message.
Laughter as medicine
The excerpt of A Hard Time, conceived by Jennifer Kidwell, Jess Conda, and Mel Krodman, was a hilarious highlight of the evening, boding well for the piece’s eventual premiere in the upcoming FringeArts High Pressure Fire Service festival. Kidwell was magnetically humorous as a “doctor” engineering a guffaw out of the audience and, without giving too much away, it only unraveled delightfully from there.
What, When, Where
Wintry Mix. Curated by Nichole Canuso Dance Company. Bryn Mawr College Performing Arts Series. January 25 and 26, 2019, at Goodhart Hall, 150 N. Merion Avenue, Bryn Mawr, PA. (610) 526-5210 or brynmawr.edu/performing-arts-series.
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