23 January 2017
by Eric Sutphin
As I waited in the lobby of the Experimental Theater to see Juliana May's Adult Documentary (2016), amid a scrappy installation by Franklin Evans composed of paper detritus and neon tape, I felt unmoored, uninitiated. Had I not read enough Butler or Sedgwick or Baldwin to fully understanding the goings-on? Has realness become institutionalized as yet another countercultural phenomenon that has been converted into an academicized aesthetic proposition? Sound bites from the crowd began to tell me a thing or two. A young woman behind me said to a well-known choreographer: "I just wrote about you in my grad school application . . . I mean, I don't even know if I want to go to grad school, but it's, like, so hard out here." Shortly after, a refined young man said to the same choreographer: "My adviser told me to just sit down and make sentences. So I did that and, you know, walked away with a PhD." This account of academic achievement, despite its shoegaze simplicity, seemed like rather sound advice to a choreographer (or critic). Though May's piece seemed milquetoast and insular (full as it was of inside jokes about dance that made the dance-world folks in the audience chuckle to themselves), it became clear that a venture like American Realness is absolutely vital. The conversation and kvetching (and posturing and flattering) that was going on before the doors opened galvanized the spirit of realness, which at its best foregrounds both attitude and inclusion. In a political moment where feelings of anger, alienation, and profound uncertainty are reinforced daily, American Realness continues to be not only an outlet, but a lifeline.
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