Life creeps forward : Dorthea Rust

Fortner Anderson
October 11

To kick-off night three of Viva, Swiss-based dancer and performance artist, Dorthea Rust, presented a sometimes playful exploration of vulnerability and trust that occasionally threatened to cause someone or something real damage. She entered the space tentatively, wearing what appeared to be an expensive branded polar anorak whose front zipper went from the waist up past the neck continuing to the top of the hood.* With the zipper closed, the fleece enclosed Rust’s torso and head completely, leaving her blind.

Throughout that period of the event in which Rust moved blindly and hesitatingly through the space, the public surrounding her watched at first vaguely amused. But as Rust continued to bumble through her action, they became more open in their laughter becoming almost cruel at times as they found humour in her confusion and state of vulnerability.

Her first foray into the space was slow but direct as she set out toward two tables set out to one side of the performance area. When she found them with outstretched hands, she asked the audience to please place their Iphones, Ipads and cellphones on the tables. Somewhat surprisingly many people did just that. Giving up their intelligent devices as reluctantly as one might leave one’s six-shooter’s with the bar-keep before entering the the saloon in Fort Winnipeg.

As quiet returned to the group after the harvest of the phones, Rust began moving the tables slowly across the rough and uneven floor of the studio. Every few moments they threatened to tip sending the the phones on a short one-way trip to the concrete floor. Succeeding at last in placing the tables more or less together in the centre of the space, but now completely disorientated, Rust then tried to find a third black table which had been left just outside the performance area.

With her arms outstretched she wandered into the standing crowd before asking « Where is the black table? » Trying to help, the public responded in a variety of ways. « To Your Right » « Over here », Arti G. attempted to guide her arm, which elicited a brusque « Don’t touch me. » from the artist. At last she found the table, but then she needed to ask in which direction she could find the other two tables.

At this moment, the temptation to play a funny trick on the blind was overwhelming, and the shout of « Behind you » led Rust in the opposite direction till she encountered a wall. Accompanied by the laughter of the crowd, she situated herself and eventually got the table into the centre area.

Off the black table, she took what appeared to be a small driftwood log, bleached by the sun, and began to use it to bang on the floor, and then to explore and caress the tables and nearby persons. Finding the space under the loft which overlooks the performance area, she suddenly asked the crowd to « Move away ». After a moment, she flung her log into the air. It careened off the ceiling narrowly missed spectators who hadn’t taken her instruction seriously. When she did this a second time, the audience moved much more quickly, attentive to the real possibility of getting hit on the head.

Going back bag to her table of tricks, Rust found and began flinging into the crowd cardboard squares on which had been glued either words or images of animals, mostly wolves. Printed in big block letters, some of the words rhymed with « bender » like « mender » or « lender ». Others read « Something is happening » and another with two words read simply « is melting ». As Rust moved around the space, the phone tables were protected from tipping by several members of the audience who stepped up to support them up when Rust bumped into them. Other members of the audience took up the cardboard signs, in particular « Something is happening » to mock Rust’s unseeing movements.

When Rust removed her gloves, hoodie and pants she revealed a her nude torso painted in black vertical stripes. Standing in the middle of performance space and staring at the crowd, she began singing a cappella an enhanced version of David Bowie’s « Let’s dance ». Familiar verses such « Let’s dance put on your red shoes, and dance the blues » mixed with others like « Life is creeping up the walls ». Rust’s interpretation and improvisation rose in volume till she screamed out the verses, riffing off the word shoes. “Red shoes… blue shoes…yellow shoes…fat shoes…drunken shoes.”

« What kind shoes do you want? » she asked, as she began returning the intelligent phones. Those who couldn’t wait for the distribution, stepped up to the table themselves, breaking the spell and ending the event. This left Rust amidst a group of spectators, holding up a phone asking plaintively « Who want’s this, the last one ».

As they cleaned up the disorder and prepared for the next performance, the public stepped into the space to read the words off the cardboard signs and off the slips of paper Rust had at one moment spilled over the phones. The slips contained the names of dozens glaciers and ice fields.

The last one’s. As we stumble blindly forward.

*In a previous version of the post, I had incorrectly assumed that the anorak had been specially tailored for the performance. When I had a chance to speak with Rust later a couple days later, she informed me that it can be bought off the shelf in sporting equipment stores.