Oct. 17 and 18 marked two back-to-back performances of Alice Gosti’s “Material Deviance in Contemporary American Culture”. “Material Deviance” is a nationally acclaimed dance performance that questions American consumerism, the life and death of objects and the relationship between people and objects. The set design was what immediately signified that this was not to be a typical dance performance. The small gallery space in Storrs Hall was dominated by towering piles of objects. There were shopping carts and boxes full of sports equipment and clothes, and enormous shelves overflowing with thrift store-esque debris. This seemingly insurmountable mass of objects was soundtracked by a low ambient hum. The set appeared to be so precisely curated that it refrained from being a comically exaggerated depiction of a suburban basement, and instead took on a certain honesty and gravitas. This may be partly due to the fact that in the week leading up to these performances, members of the community were invited to come to the gallery and leave an object that they have had difficulty parting with. This sense of greater communal involvement helped create this idea of realness, despite the abstract nature of the dance and set.
This ambient hum was suddenly interspersed with an infrequent low blaring, and the dancers appeared one at a time on the set. The first act was instantly captivating, and dancers would suddenly appear from the background only fade back into the piles of objects a few moments later. This created a tension between the dancers, \and the objects that was mesmerizing to watch.
The entire performance was defined by this symbiotic relationship between the dancers and the set. Neither the set nor the dance could exist without the other. Through the hour and a half long performance, the five dancers went from hiding among the array of objects like mannequins to rearranging the objects in the set in a precise and frenzied manner to ultimately engaging with the objects on a more individual scale. The power of any individual object and its influence over the individual was constant, and one of the clearest examples of this was when the dancers suddenly came together in a sort of patriotic march while waving small American flags. The music shifted to a distorted patriotic instrumental, and the entire segment felt incredibly dystopian and surreal. This jarring dance sequence was later repeated, but without the patriotic music and flags. The absence of these objects was strongly felt, and the dichotomy between having and not having the flags was a powerful testament to the control objects have over people.
The performance also roughly followed the life of a person, and this was expressed by monologues scattered throughout the performance. These monologues always had some reference to an object of objects, and these made for some of the most compelling moments in the piece. One of the dancers describes how “shoes are always more than just shoes,” speaking from the point of view of a child and detailing how humans assign value and personality to inanimate objects. Following this, the music swelled into an earth shattering roar, as the dancers suddenly pulled a table and chairs from the mass of objects. The music crescendoed, building in complexity until it represented the layered chaos of the objects, and the entire set threatened to collapse under the sheer intricacies of what was transpiring. The dancers, meanwhile, were participating in a seemingly mundane task; going through newspapers and advertisements at the table. This was done in a frantic way, and combined with the score and set, it was chaotic in the most mesmerizing way.
The performance then completed the story of the life of an individual, and one of the dancers feigned a phone call with her mom. It was a magnificent bit of acting, and focused on the pressure of inherited objects. The piece then shifted into a description of an old woman, and the chair in her living room that “holds her shape, remembers the weight of her.” “Material Deviance” explored many interesting ideas, specifically ideas that I did not think could be expressed in dance. The life of a human told through interactions with objects. The power and influence of consumerism on American society. Objects as sentient and sometimes controlling beings. “Material Deviance” was an intensely captivating multi-disciplinary experience that shines a bright light on an aspect of the human experience that we often overlook. The remnants of this event will be on view in Storrs Gallery until November 15th.