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Luster, the latest from Brian Sanders’ JUNK, explores exposure, exploitation, success, and what people will do for fame and fortune. It also considers the blurry lines between performance, reality, and reality TV through an immersive experience that travels throughout the venue. The show follows teams of performers competing for airtime on a fictional web series called TRAGIC.
Audience members can choose to participate in, comment on, and even judge the performances. As the show unfolds, performers playing TRAGIC crew members direct the show, film the contestants, and stop and start the action. It’s a fascinating concept that makes for a sometimes-disorienting evening of entertainment anchored by Sanders’s innovative style and terrific performances by dancers Katherine Corbett, Asha Yates, Tunai Jones, Elias Alfau, William Brazdzionis, and Mikhail King.
Marionettes and vets
Dancers and crew members Kristin Bashore, Kyle Yackoski, and Pedro Silva demonstrate full commitment to their dual roles in TRAGIC and Luster. On the night I attend, I arrive early to find the pre-show underway as viewers sit in a circle of folding chairs around Exotica (Yates). She bounces in aerial straps suspended from the ceiling for a visually interesting marionette effect that foreshadows TRAGIC’s treatment of its contestants.
Next, a group performs a clever and technically complex dance to “WAP” (2020) by Cardi B featuring Megan Thee Stallion. Clutching stuffed animals shaped like cats between their legs, they wag the furry tails and drop low for a duck walk. For the big finale and the biggest laugh of the night, the dancers plunge their stuffed pussycats into buckets of water and shake droplets onto the audience. As the number wraps, a crew member announces that this team of TRAGIC contestants represents a veterinary clinic.
Dancers on hoverboards perform on a dance floor adjacent to the main performance space during a scene change. Is the pre-show ended? Has Luster begun? Who knows? An announcer informs the audience that filming is underway for the second season of TRAGIC, a show exploring the boundary between entertainment and tragedy, and that no performance is too wild for the $250,000 prize.
The next team of contestants wears cheerful athletic uniforms and clear plastic dental devices that contort their faces into disturbing grimaces. They are followed by the Inappropriators (King and Yates), who perform an excellent partnered dance cut short by a character’s injury. But instead of providing medical attention, TRAGIC puts a camera and a mic on the injured contestant and continues the show.
This theme recurs throughout Luster as injured and increasingly resistant contestants meet with dismissiveness. “This is how TV works,” insists a crew member. Luster’s movement sequences prove more engrossing than its premise and format, and there are several standouts. Alfau and Brazdzionis shine in a sexy, strong, and homoerotic acrobatic section. They twist and spin while hanging from a pole by their hands and ankles. Later, dancers perform in red and black latex bodysuits and stiletto boots. Wearing a helmet, King does headstands, head-spins, and inversions before Corbett steps onto his helmet to balance on one leg. Finally, King removes the helmet for a spectacular breakdance.
Luster’s exploration of the exploitative nature of a go-for-broke reality show is indeed tragic, yet hardly surprising—or even very interesting—in a culture full of people rushing to exploit and dehumanize themselves and others for likes, follows, sponsors, notoriety, and dollars. While the chaos of scenes starting and stopping may leave viewers wondering where TRAGIC ends and Luster begins, Sanders’s unique approach to dance-theater and the dancers’ strength and grace are worth it.
What, When, Where
Luster. By Brian Sanders' JUNK. $30 ($65 for luxe tickets including a pre-show and limited pairs of socially distanced seating). Through September 17, 2022, at Concourse Dance Bar, 1635 Market Street (rear entrance), Philadelphia. (215) 413-1318 or fringearts.com.
Proof of Covid-19 vaccination is required; masks are optional.
This performance contains strobe lights and fog/smoke effects. Standard tickets require standing, walking, and shifting throughout the performance.
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