"Serpentine" is two-hour solo for a naked woman who slides, twists and slams her body along an oily floor.
A naked woman, a floor of glistening with oil and two hours of repetitive movement. That’s what Daina Ashbee’s “Serpentine” entails.
As performed in the lobby at Rensselaer’s EMPAC on Friday night, the show is hardly entertaining. Rather it’s a mediation for the solo artists – in this case Greys Vecchionacce – to repeatedly indulge in sloth-like and snake-like slides, twists and violent body slams across the floor.
It’s the kind of piece that makes one uncomfortable, to want to look away, to beg for it to end. But as the audience sits at the edges of the stages – a sort of runway for Vecchionacce’s journey – there is no escape. At the end of each section – repeated four times – she ends face down with her face planted into the floor, her head just inches from the feet of her viewers.
She then arises and stares into the eyes of those sitting closest to her. And then she does it to every audience member there – slowly walking the aisles – facing off with each and every one.
But that’s the end of the section. “Serpentine,” with its eerie electronic organ score by Jean-Francois Bloudin, begins with the dancer on the floor with her legs and arms folded under her chest. The only thing exposed is her back and her head.
The lights start off as bright, only dimming at the end of each repeated section. First one leg slides from underneath her frame, then another. She lifts her head to one side and stares at the audience. Then she lifts it to the other side and does the same. Her arms emerge. She briefly rises on her wrists and then she draws them out straight over her head, with her fingers reaching out to something unseen.
She rotates onto her back, crawls, slides down flat and eventually undulates like an inchworm, advancing to the other end of the slick stage. Most disturbing is her heaves and calls as she slaps her body down onto the floor. At times, it’s unbearable to watch and hear.
Then after she rises and stares into faces with her own somber eyes, she returns to the other end of the stage and does it all over again and again and again. The only change is the lights slowly darkened. And as they dim, the floor reflects her Vecchionacce’s body, deepening the visual impact.
The piece, though I would not want to see it again, has me thinking about the Biblical seduction of Adam and Eve. They are naked and content and then the serpent lures them to indulge in the forbidden fruit. Afterwards, the two are ashamed and banished from the Garden of Eden.
Is Vecchionacce Eve or the serpent? Or are we? Or am I just trying to impose meaning on something that has none.
One thing is for certain, “Serpentine” is memorable, an experience that is not meant to be enjoyed, but endured.