November 29, 2012
San Francisco, CA
by Rita Felciano
Copyright © Rita Felciano, 2012
Performance artist (and sometime drag artist) Monique Jenkinson may have -- as they say -- left Ballet behind, but Ballet has not left her. It creeps into her fantastical creations either as a reference or in actual movements. For "Instrument", she has dug into its core as a means to examine the nature of performance. The piece needs tightening, particularly in the early parts, and a few of the references probably could be clarified. But this is a rich, evocative and entertaining work of dance theater for which the genius and person of Rudolf Nureyev provided the conduit.
Working with radically different choreographers Amy Seiwert, Chris Black and Miguel Gutierrez, each of whom offered suggestions on dance, theater and performance, Jenkinson developed the seventy-minutes "Instrument" as a series of scenes, some of them glimpses, others more extensive. Together they explored the trope of the body as the dancer's tool, identity, blessing and curse. But the dancer, of course, also is the clay onto which the choreographer designs his or her creation. While the piece focused on Dance, with references to Nureyev and Jenkinson herself, many of the questions raised about obsession and perception, renown and decline, external and internal expectations resonated beyond "Instrument's" specificity. Spinning the "I-Ja" syllable into a crescendo of gut-spilling anguish, for instance, became a universal expression at some unnamed horror. It was also pure opera.
Jenkinson has a fine ear for music and the nuances of vocal deliveries. A tall, lanky non-ballerina with quite good lines, she probably also has more ballet lessons under her belt than she cares to remember. Daily class served as the fabric that held "Instrument" together. She turned pirouettes in the corners until you feared for the Marley floor; tendus were whispered in Russian, and when she simply couldn't muster passés, she asked the audience for suggestions. Reciting a litany of ambitious, incompetent, cruel, indifferent, you-name-it ballet teachers, she demonstrated her struggles to fulfill her own and someone else's expectations. None of these accounts were in any way derogatory of Ballet though, of course, they had a sense of humor about them. But perhaps the most poignant scene about aspirations and limitations came in Jenkinson's calling up "La Bayadère's" 'Kingdom of the Shades.'
First dressed in layers of rehearsal black, which she gradually shed as one would in the studio, she had stripped down to her underwear. With hair disheveled and vainly trying to hold 'Kingdom's' iconic arabesque, she croaked the music and finally grabbed an audience member's offered hand. It was grotesque even if one knew that Nureyev had staged that ballet with the last of his remaining strength.
Donning a bejeweled Prince's jacket, she channeled the renowned dancer leaning against the wall with his hands rehearsing the choreography which he was about to perform. Standing center-stage, he froze into one poster image to the next; Jenkinson made him look utterly bored. Taking to a mike, she read a long letter to a lover about the pain of their long-distance relationship. It might have been a real one written to Erik Brun. The memory of having seen Nureyev in "The King and I" as a child led the choreographer to consider her own aging. Yet here neither the language nor its delivery rang as true as so much else in these resonant musings of life on the stage.