We spend a third of our lives sleeping. For the lucky ones, that means we spend a third of our lives on mattresses, including a whole host of life experiences with it: dispelling the nightmares and monsters under the bed, control over physical and mental distractions like wetting the bed, many of our first sexual experiences. "Bed" connotes a plethora of emotions and impulses: comfort, relaxation, privacy, relief, restlessness, eroticism, suspension, safety, escape. They are marketed to us in the form of these emotions, and many of us have become somnambulant cyborgs, buying into fancier bedding technologies like the Tempurpedic, Sleep Number, or Craftmatic, helping the U.S. spend $6,700,000,000 on mattresses in 2007 alone. Most of us were born on a mattress; most of us will die on a mattress. Taking this under consideration, it’s remarkable that beds aren’t the subject of more critical and aesthetic inquiry. (The one example I could think of, The Princess and the Pea, is not about mattresses at all; it’s like saying Rambo is about a grenade launcher.)
But Freefall dance takes this challenge up in their lovely new piece, Lie, Lay, Laid at the Walkerspace. Placing the audience above and around the performance space, reflecting the voyeurism of anatomy theatre, or perhaps Grotowski’s The Constant Prince (1965), the audience looks down into the performance space, complete with four performers and a whole bunch of mattresses. The piece opens with the performers entering the audience, offering apples to each spectator, implicating us in the action (hey, I use a mattress and eat apples, too!), then perching themselves atop a tall pile of mattresses and engaging in what can only be called an “apple orgy” (which I believe is a Tweed-original coinage, but in matters of sex and food, one can never be sure).
The bulk of the piece is careful choreography, not only of the dancers (Lynn Brown, Lynn Marie Ruse, Uta Takemora, and Carlton Ward), but of the mattresses, which become dancers as well, manipulated about the space as conscientious actors, animated portrayals of their roles in our physical and mental health, as well as vehicles for sexual and romantic encounter and embodiments of the nightmares they can effect. The dancers tumble in a clever shift from choreography (by Brown and Ruse) in the conventional outward sense that one would expect from a proscenium performance, to the specialized upward trajectory the space entails. And no stone is left unturned: now sexual, now playful, now mournful, the dancers beautifully evoke an overwhelming gamut of sensations, aided by the simple but wondrous lighting design by Jay Ryan and the wonderful, eclectic live accompaniment by Ljova and the Kontraband. The fusion of all these elements leads to a surprisingly moving piece overall.
And although the performers avoid falling into overly saccharine moments, there is one gap that I found interesting, to return to the apples. The fruit, a not-so subtle gesture to sexuality and gender, pointed to how the piece was very much rooted in traditional notions of gender roles. Considering the apple’s allusive invocation of the Fall, with Eve as the second-thought-cum-catalyst, the performance did little to problematize this idea, as seen in the costumes, with the women dressed in flappers and fishnets, with scarlet red tank tops beneath, while the men are decorously desexualized in plain white t-shirts and grays shorts or pants. Add to this a slightly uncomfortable scene where Brown and Ruse reenact their earlier erotic encounter by forcing Takemura and Ward to do the same, like puppets, and the piece simply stages the transmission of these stereotypes, instead of really working through them.
But what Lie, Lay, Laid lacks in this critical gender engagement, it more than makes up for in earnestness and commitment. While an incredibly effective and affective piece in general, it’s not afraid to be messy, uncomfortable, and fun (much like the better experiences in our own beds). To be sure, I saw the dress rehearsal, so perhaps the dancers were more willing to admit mistakes, laugh, and smack each other in a realization of claustrophobic space. For the sake of the sincerity they brought out so well, I hope the actual run retains that spirit of interchange and imperfection to prove that this is the reason why, not despite, Plato utilized a bed to illustrate the sublime.